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Crib Sheet: Equoid

2014 saw the publication of two long format Laundry Files stories—the novella "Equoid" and the novel "The Rhesus Chart", the fifth book in the series. I wrote them at different times and for different reasons, but they share a common theme. (It was also around this time that I got the memo from editorial at Ace—all series of three or more books must have a series title—and was handed "The Laundry Files"by default.)

So let me tackle "Equoid" first. "Equoid" has an origin story all of its own, which I've described at length (and I don't have the energy to repeat myself). What I didn't explain in that essay was why I went with unicorns.

The first four Laundry Files novels (The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex) all riffed on a common idea: the traditional British spy thriller. Loosely, each novel pastiched a particular author—in order: Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, Anthony Price (even though "The Fuller Memorandum" is really an Adam Hall title), and Peter O'Donnell. They were written over a twelve year period from 1999 to 2011. The shorter works in the Laundry corpus from that period don't share the pastiche theme, because (as Isaac Asimov noted some time in the 1950s) the shorter you make a work of fiction, the more stuff you have to leave out: there just wasn't room in anything shorter than a novella to layer another author's style on top of the existing overloaded freight of geek-out nerdery and Lovecraftian horror.

But after more than a decade I was getting a bit tired of the author-level pastiche, not to mention running out of authors I wanted to tackle. (John LeCarre is off the menu, for reasons explained in the afterword to "The Atrocity Archives"; ditto Graham Greene—I'm just not a good enough writer to shine either of their shoes.) By their very nature, the Laundry Files can't pastiche American writers: it would utterly break the Britishness of the series. So what to do?

"Equoid" happened after "The Rhesus Chart" (the origin of which I will get to), and although the idea predates that novel by a few years ("The Rhesus Chart" was written in late 2012) I already had the new thematic connection in mind: I was going to switch to pastiching urban fantasy sub-genres rather than authors of cold war spy thrillers. "Equoid" is the unicorn story. "The Rhesus Chart" was to be the vampire novel: it is followed by "The Annihilation Score" (superheroes) and "The Nightmare Stacks" (elves, dragons, orcs, and the related underpinnings of Tolkein's matter of Britain), before (assuming I get that far) the series returns to focus on Spies—this time in a version of the post-Edward Snowden era warped by the background presence of nightmarish threats to humanity sufficient to justify almost any repressive measure.

I've mentioned the unicorn thing already. "Equoid" is another departure for the short format works in the Laundry Files (a novella straddles the gap between short stories and novels, right?) in that by the time I got there the series had already acquired a distinctive background and texture of its own, rather than simply borrowing from primary taproots (Lovecraft and Deighton, remixed as necessarily). So I didn't have to devote as much of the story to introducing new ideas as I did in, for example, "The Concrete Jungle" or "Down on the Farm".

Paradoxically this left more room in "Equoid" for playful pastiches ... which was my cue to indulge in fan service to the British rural novel by way of the likes of Thomas Hardy and (viciously parodied) Stella Gibbons. Unicorns are being bred on a farm in East Sussex (it's no coincidence that I dated a farmer's daughter from that part of the world for a few years) so it shouldn't surprise anyone in the know to see that Cold Comfort Farm puts in an appearance. (In fact, the whole thing is set on Cold Comfort Farm, eighty years later, and of course there is something nasty in the woodshed.)

Of course, once one dives into rural Home Counties England there are all sorts of things one can't really leave out. Camberwick Green, for example, whose PC McGarry (Number 452) shows up down the local nick. But it's become impossible to play Camberwick Green/Trumpton/Chigley straight ever since Half Man Half Biscuit up-ended the 1960s British children's TV toy-chest, so of course there's a three level pastiche here, in which the very rural McGarry is teamed up with Constable Savage from the London Met in an echo of Hot Fuzz. The Edgebaston girls are at a boarding school, St Ninian's, which might inadvertently resemble St Trinian's School; the style of Ronald Searle was an implicit influence. And there are many more easter eggs buried in the text—if you're English, of a certain age, and ever had anything to do with farming folks in the south east. (Parenthetically: "Equoid" is a nightmare for translators because of all the cultural references flying past their heads— even an intimate familiarity with American mass culture won't help. It's not an accident that it won a Hugo award at a British world science fiction convention.)

Finally there's the H. P. Lovecraft pastiche, in the shape of his death-bed confessional letters to the young Robert Bloch, but this is a Laundry Files story so the presence of Lovecraftian nastiness shouldn't come as a surprise. The different element here is the content of the confessional. Lovecraft had a lot of hang-ups and his relationship with sexuality was peculiarly repressive to say the least; per some sources he's reputed to have said he never kissed a female other than his mother until he met Sonia, his wife, at the age of 32. You don't need to be a Freudian psychotherapist to find the prevalence of tentacles, orifices, and hentai-laden symbolism in his later writing highly suggestive (along with the misogyny that parallels his unselfconscious racism and authoritarianism). So here's a very fucked-up guy who had a nervous breakdown in his teens and more or less didn't come out of his bedroom for two years, who was terrified of women ... could there be something in his background to explain this, some actual concrete experience that damaged him and left him susceptible to narratives involving all of the above, and protagonists who are unable thereafter to unsee that which has been seen?

Next time I blog I'm either going to witter on about Hugo-worthy graphic novels, or do a brain dump of my crib notes for "The Rhesus Chart". But for now, if you have any "Equoid" related questions, feel free to ask here.

759 Comments

1:

Not specifically "Equoid" related, but a couple things I've been wondering:
How much Tuckerization have you done in the series?
Did you intend the series to be as long as it is, or did it sneak up on you, with the overall story arc popping into your head, or a bit by bit?

2:

Well the obvious Chekhov's gun is the prophecy.

When dealing with Lovecraft, Shubby mentions a prophecy about "Howard"

" for your arrival has been prophesied by the ancients of our kind & you will be a fitting adornment to my reign"
&
"we come from your future & it is prophesied that you will become one with our flesh.”

which then doesn't pan out. But there is another "Howard" who starts tangling with them at a different point Shubby's past. One who is going to see a lot more of Shubby's kind, one who has been marked as a privileged elite and is of growing importance as the stars come right, the kind of person of destiny that prophecies get created about.

So, I guess my question is what are all available details about the prophecy you are willing to share or, assuming the answer to that is sufficiently spoilery you'd prefer to respond "Nyah nyah, I'm not gonna tell you...." what book will we see the prophecy significantly come up in?

Or if I'm just reading WAY too much into a body horror scene

3:
"Cold Comfort Farm puts in an appearance"

And a lovely one it was too. Especially since it plays into my long standing stance (taken just to annoy the genre bigots on both sides) that CCF is specfic. After all it's set in the near future, has flying taxies, video phones, etc. ;-)

4:

There's Tuckerization -- applying a real person's name to a character in a story -- and the inverse: using a real person as a model for a character, but changing their name. In the case of "Equoid", Greg Scullery is a thinly-disguised portrait of one of the regular commenters here ...

Originally the series was one short novel. Then it was going to be a trilogy. I am now working on the novel with trilogy book three's title, and it's book seven, and I know where books eight and nine go ...

5:

You're reading way too much into that scene.

Also: have you considered that Shubby might just be fucking with Bob's head?

6:

CCF was published in that liminal period between SF in the UK being part of the literary mainstream (as with Wells), before the moderns decided to eschew all that fantastic stuff -- and before Gernsbackian SF lurched out of the swamp of the American pulps. So it was a time when it was, if not respectable to throw around SFnal tropes, at least permissible to do so, while claiming to be literary and respectable. And CCF was all about skewering the pretensions of the literary and respectable, so ...

7:

I keep wondering how much of this, The Apocalypse Codex came out of Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex? The fun theory I've been playing with is one that certain ecologists and lichenologists subscribe to, that a healthy ecosystem is one that contains a lot of parasites. While it's fun to play up the X-Files idea of parasites from another dimension, in real life, while parasites can be gross-out horrible, indigenous parasites also play a huge role in ecosystem functions. In this view, more damaged ecosystems are the ones that don't have a lot of indigenous parasites and are being over-run by invasive parasites from other systems.

Makes me wonder if, in the Laundry Files, humans have so mucked up Earth's indigenous magic that there aren't any of our own parasites left, and because of this, we're more open to invasion than we otherwise would be.

8:

I keep wondering how much of this, The Apocalypse Codex came out of Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex?

None: I haven't read it.


(Mind you, the idea of indigenous parasite having died out, opening up new ecosystem niches is a good one ...)

9:

There are lots of variants of that (Helicobacter pylori being one),
but there is a classic case of a very interesting one that I now
can't remember. But the essence is:

There was a crop, stock or similar that was suffering from
significant predation/parasitism by agent X, so steps were taken
to eliminate agent X. Only then was it discovered that agent X
was the main control on agent Y, which also predated/parasitised
the crop or whatever to an ignorable extent. But, with the control
of agent X removed, agent Y became a worse problem than agent X
had ever been.

10:

Fond as I am of superheroes (my Laundry Files campaign was about a team of superheroes recruited by the Laundry's Australian analogue), your description of The Nightmare Stacks really makes me wish I could jump ahead to the next novel. . . .

11:

Would the inverse of Tuckerization fall under the heading of "roman à clef"?

12:

the Laundry Files can't pastiche American writers: it would utterly break the Britishness of the series.

Having Bob (or some other Laundry character) be the only sane man in a Tom Clancy pastiche (complete with five-page technical explanations for eldritch horrors) could be funny.

13:

Zimmer's the fun, eye-opening version on how parasites work, especially in an ecosystem context (Zimmer's a science writer, not a scientist). If you really want your head messed with, try John Thompson's Relentless Evolution. I've got to warn people that this was written by an evolutionary biologist, for biologists, although if you're willing to put your hip waders on, you can make it through the polysyllabic vocabulary and phylogenetics without the requisite classwork.

As for history, humans have been around ~100,000 years, Neanderthals longer still, and the Deep Ones and the Cthonians for millions of years. Surely the stars have come right on them before, too, and they survived it.

Perhaps the problem with humans is that we got too good at killing monsters, not just diseases, but magical parasites, pathogens, and predators. That allowed out population to boom (see Enemy Release Hypothesis) in what's effectively an outbreak of humanity (aka civilization). We're now in the same position as, say, gypsy moth caterpillars, ripe pickings for anything that can take us. It's inevitable that we will pick up a new crop of exploiters (aka predators, parasites, and pathogens), but maybe the secret to long-term survival isn't to kill them all, it's to get into stable, potentially hostile relationships with them controlling out numbers and us trying to escape control. Cold wars that last eons, as it were, where we coevolve in relationship with our enemies, each side trying to exploit or eliminate the other, and only partially succeeding for a time before innovations on the other side restore the balance of power.

Maybe the Neanderthals did that, and it's why they survived so long. I'll be the Deep Ones and the Cthonians deal with their horrors in this way.

14:

Charlie! Come on, you know perfectly well that, esp. to Tolkien, there was only *one* Matter of Britain: Arthur. That's like saying Verne's Matter of France....

mark "why, yes, I did once read an entire
college library's books and journals
on Arthuriana...."

15:

A spoiler type question, so no answer expected, but...

Have you worked out a way for things to end well for humanity, sort of, that doesn't compromise the basic premises and internal intellectual rigour?

And if so, will it happen, or are we to watch in mounting horror as billions of your characters meet fates much worse than death?

(As you say: ) In the multiverse you portray, the rational action is to kill yourself, hoping the recording devices/ancestor simulations missed you. Oblivion being more than you can realistically hope for.

I mean, it is a lot of fun now, but it is going to get bleak, no?

(Though I am looking forward to the pseudo-Cameron/Osbourne characters of the later novels being eaten by eldritch horrors while pontificating about austerity and the need for us all to share the pain.)

16:

I mean, it is a lot of fun now, but it is going to get bleak, no?

What do you mean, "going to get bleak"? This is a horror series, FFS! (And if you want the big narrative arc on a plate, it's the Lovecraftian Singularity -- what happens if we replace transhumanism with gibbering post-chthonianism. (Clue: the plan for book 8 involves Iris Carpenter and Raymond Schiller re-appearing as characters.))

17:

Clue: the plan for book 8 involves Iris Carpenter and Raymond Schiller re-appearing as characters

This is the most terrifying thing for me about the laundryverse (assuming I'm reading this clue right). It seems like there is a process for life after death although I suspect it resembles usual tropes surrounding this as much as Alex resembles a sparkly teen heart-throb. So not only is the multiverse full of creatures ready to possess, maim and torture you but you can't even kill yourself to escape.

18:

Unless I really misremember the ending of "Fuller Memorandum" Iris was captured alive by the Laundry (and is being interrogated subsequently); and Schiller may have ended up in the Pyramid on the Plateau, but nobody saw him die ...

Every series needs recurring adversaries. And it helps if they have a human face and good intentions from their own (skewed) perspective.

19:

Sigh. Fair enough.

And I do look forward to seeing how your characters manage to avoid despair, what fruitless hopes you hold up to them, only to snatch away, and how you manage to do that while still having the reader laugh in delight.

But it would be nice if you could have your Lovecraftian Singularity cake and not eat us too --- though I admit doing that honestly requires quite some work.

(It still wont be bleak as, say, Kertesz.)

20:

If we are going to talk about parasites and predators to which humanity has more or less adapted, it strikes me that obvious examples include both states (see Mancur Olson's "stationary bandit" model) and religions. Religions in particular seem to undergo a sort of coevolution: In the early days they call for extreme behavior that may lead to martyrdom or population decline (as in the Christian slogan "marriage peoples Earth but virginity peoples Heaven"), but after a few generations they provide room and even support for functional worldly behavior. . . .

21:

Dirty little secret: from a nutrient perspective (as in what we eat), most civilized humans are parasites. We give this stuff called money to other suckers in return for them feeding us from other species which have created a symbiosis with humans in return for dominion over about 10% of the Earth--under the control of farmers and ranchers, of course.

Indeed, I'd say that the hierarchy required to run anything resembling a complex society requires nutritional parasites, aka the benevolent, enlightened chiefs who make sure everything runs properly. Their full-time position as problem-solvers is only possible because other people are feeding them, whether the chiefs help them or not.

Of course the relationship's more complicated than that, but if you look at nutrients, the arrow is quite clear.

I'd also point out that predatory practices by elites, bankers, etc. are properly parasitic relationships. After all, they're not killing us and eating us, they're merely trying to enforce long term relationships where they take our resources and give us less back in return than we would have had by keeping those resources.

This is what I mean by a system full of parasites is not necessarily a bad thing. I am, of course, speaking as a parasite.

And don't get me started on cats and lapdogs.

22:

Ah yeah that's me misremembering. I knew Shiller was MIA but confused Iris with Harriet(?). It's been a while since I've read the earlier books but the woman who goes up against angleton and loses, badly.

Aside from that though there's the device used in Jennifer Morgue that binds the mojo of a dead person, IIRC the Russians were going to use it to allow generals to give orders even after death.

Man I really need to dig out my old copies. I've read the most recent two a lot more than the first three.

23:

''as in the Christian slogan "marriage peoples Earth but virginity
peoples Heaven"''

I think that you will find that view was always extreme, verging
on aberrant. Yes, there were (and are) a lot of sects that are
obsessed with sex and its denial, but they are not supported by
the Gospels, Acts or even Epistles and have rarely been mainstream.
Almost always, people who sacrifice their sexuality for the Church
were regarded as especially holy, but people who did not were not
thereby excluded. Except in the lunatic fringe.

24:

Bleak, yes, but not hopeless - I hope that you avoid it becoming so.
I didn't like A Colder War, because it managed to be even more
depressing than reality :-( Which is a comment on my taste, more
that a negative criticism of the story - hopeless stories have
their place, but I found it too horribly realistic in an allegorical
sort of way.

25:

I have that problem too; continuity is enough of a headache that I need to re-read the entire goddamn series before I start work on book 8.

26:

Out of interest to what extent do you have notes to support your work? I imagine key things like plot ideas would be written down somewhere but do you also make notes for specific character, key dates, objects of interest etc?

Seems like it's the type of thing that would be great in theory to have detailed notes on everything but the cost/benefit of maintaining that might not be favourable.

27:

Notes? Ha ha you crack me up.

Nope, I'm not one of those writers: I'm a pantser (as in: seat of the ...)

28:

Lol whatever works!

29:

In the case of "Equoid", Greg Scullery is a thinly-disguised portrait of one of the regular commenters here ...

Which is why I was wondering if there were other examples to look out for in the series, and about the inverse. I'll admit to being amused that a couple of aspects of Pete in "The Rhesus Chart" were (completely coincidentally) close to home; an interest in ancient Semitic languages, and riding a scooter. I'm nowhere near to fluent in any other language, but my Hebrew, Yiddish, or Aramaic is passable with dictionaries handy, though forget Chaldean or Enochian (which I guess doesn't really count). And I can't afford a proper Vespa, but enjoy the scooter I have. Let's just say I found myself fond of Pete, despite his religious orientation.

Anyhow, Thank you for all the fun reads!

30:

"(elves, dragons, orcs, and the related underpinnings of Tolkein's matter of Britain)"

I'm going to assume you did that on purpose, though the purpose isn't quite clear.

31:

You might want to look into Aeon Timeline, or something similar. It's a nifty little program that lets you plot events on a customized timeline, including character birthdays, their age at each subsequent event in their life, their death, what events they've participated in, what events they've observed, and a few other spiffy tools. I'm a big fan of this program, and consider it almost as important as Scrivener to one of the projects I'm (allegedly) working on.

Creating a master Laundry Files timeline with detailed history might help you avoid the need to reread the series again the the future. (Once you've reread it at least once and created the timeline, I mean.)

A bunch of tutorial videos that should give you some idea of what they can do can be found here: http://www.scribblecode.com/videos.html

32:

Max Gladstone raved about Aeon Timeline at me; it looks like an amazing tool for folks who, like, plan everything in advance. However at the point where I picked it up I was already working on the current book; with new tools, it's best to start a fresh project rather than risk delaying an existing one with a deadline attached. (I'm hopefully about a week away from finishing a draft, so now is not the right time ...)

33:

Right, and I saw where you mentioned you're more of a seat of the pants kind of guy. I was thinking it might be more useful for you as a way of recording things after you'd written them, so in future projects you wouldn't have to dig through thousands of pages of text to remember when, where, and how something happened.

(Also, I seriously cannot grok writing an entire book by the seat of one's pants. I did it once, and still don't know how I managed to do so.)

34:

Humorous side note: Jane Lindskold blogged yesterday about authors being either gardeners or architects. Sounds like you're a gardener, if you get bored being a pantser.

As for timelines, for one story I actually sat down, hauled out the trig and figured out the phases of the mother planet and other moons for a world that was the moon of a gas giant. They didn't even bother doing that in Avatar, the ijits.

As a total non sequitur, it looks like angle that the gas giant takes up in its moon's sky for at least a couple of habitable moons is around 17-20 degrees (that's moons with a half-way reasonable day length). Not sure if that's me getting my math wrong or something very special going on with tidal locks on gas giants. It also turns out that's about the angle covered by your hand, pinkie and thumb spread out, held at arm's length, which definitely didn't show up on Avatar).

35:

I've tried outlining; it makes the whole process boring. (And what's the point of doing this for a living if it's boring?)

When I do seat-of-the-pants, though, I usually have an idea of where I'm going, and some waypoints along the course. Near to the end, I know enough about how the climax and resolution and closure have to work that I can usually block out a scene-level outline for the last couple of chapters, when things have to be tight. But I like having the freedom to re-conceptualize/refactor a plot partway through, and anyway, no outline I ever wrote survived contact with the enemy intact.

36:

"I've tried outlining; it makes the whole process boring. (And what's the point of doing this for a living if it's boring?)"

Ah yes, I know this one. The way it works for me is that when I'm writing something, I'm telling the story to myself. As soon as I start seriously outlining things, I know how the story ends... at which point, why bother writing any further? I have discovered I can do vague dot-point outlines - things I want to hit along the way, the shape of the overall arc and so on, but I have to keep it as vague as possible, or the whole thing falls in a heap.

(Given the highest wordcount I've hit on a single completed work as a result is about fifteen thousand words - just - I stand in further awe of your skill!)

37:

I can't outline either. Too often it seems like making a list of items that need to checked off as you go. I think I ignore a lot of what I learned in a creative writing class I had in 8th grade, ages ago. Things like outlining, sentence diagrams, or the plot pyramid (rising action leading to the climax, then down to the denouement. Feh).
So I guess I'm a pantser. I have a basic idea in my head of the overall story including the ending, and sometimes specific scenes on the way that need to be connected up. I have a file or two of notes that I add to as ideas occur, once I've used one I change the color of the text. Sometimes I end up with notes on scraps of paper, that I'll either type up into the notes file, or work straight into the story--which I did last night and this afternoon. Then there's the notebooks of research materials; stuff printed out and marked up with highlighter and margin notes. Maybe not the most efficient way of doing it, but it seems to work for me so far.

38:

I'm not going to argue the use of outlines for fiction, unless you're running multiple plot lines and you want to make sure they all come together at the right point. Or that they're cross-talking properly.

I just finished a non-fiction manuscript, and I outlined it a bit. There were two reasons. One was that I needed to know what I was researching for the next section while I was writing the current one and revising the last one. The other reason was to make sure that the sections referenced each other. Even with the outline, so much discovery happened that I'm still revising to make sure ideas are relatively consistent throughout.

The advantage of ordering things (thesis sentences and all that) is that it makes it easier to convey complex information. Sentence, paragraph, and essay structure all matter in that regard. I've read enough bureaucratese to know that burying the lead isn't just bad journalistic practice, it's a standard way of burying bad news in reports. That, in turn (and with help from some teachers) made it easier for me to realize that there's a point to all that stuff you learn about writing. It makes for clearer writing, in certain circumstances.

As for fiction writing, it's up to you. If you want, the outline points are the flags in a capture the flag game. How you get them all is the real adventure, but there's nothing wrong with putting them out there and going for them.

39:

unless you're running multiple plot lines and you want to make sure they all come together at the right point.

I haven't done much in the way of multiple plots or subplots yet, and probably need to work on that. I can see how outlines could help keep things straight. Mostly I've done first person, or switched between different POVs to mix things up and get info to the reader that they couldn't get sticking with the main characters, or to keep things hidden.

40:

I was a fan of Delta Green (the other Cthulhu spy franchise) long before The Atrocity Archives saw print. If the Laundry series seems lighthearted to me, it's because I can't help using DG as a reference point, and DG is much darker.

One example: Laundry agents use geases to prevent witnesses from talking. DG agents use shovels (Hell no it's not legal. Don't get caught.).

41:

Who is till pissed-off that he got wasted.
Or, I suspect, you do it for a cynical sort of fun ...
After all, you were brought up in Leeds & IIRC said city gets 'orrible things happening to it, real soon now in one of the next two Laundry novels, doesn't it?

42:

So ... Every series needs recurring adversaries.
Can we expect guest appearances from either the Mekon, or more appropriately, perhaps, the Silicon Mass?

43:

I suppose it is a good thing that Bob is an admittedly unreliable narrator huh.

Hmmm, perhaps that's why we didn't get to see too much from Angleton's pov, he'd have you turning in pink-slips and filling out forms in triplicate for the segments he was narrating I bet.

Also, Iris, I do recall that... loose thread, though I guess I kinda hoped Raymond didn't survive, for his sake, megalomaniacal cult-leading god-bothering demon-pawn or not, maybe if he had kicked a few more kittens and babies off cliffs I'd be all "yeah, hope you enjoy keeping The Sleeper company over there" I guess.

As for A Colder War, I'd say it's a dead-heat for my favorite "fucked up alt-history type setting which I'm glad I don't live in story ending" between that and Rant.

44:

Ok, not actually a question, but an observation.

Equoid sold me a copy of Cold Comfort Farm, and after having read CCF I reread Equoid and enjoyed it even more.

45:

I'm not so sure; reading a Dan Brown with an hobbyist informed knowledge of military aviation (and there's a bunch of us have that, including OGH) is a mixture of LOLs and "I'd better not throw this; it could qualify as 'assault occasioning actual bodily harm' " anyway.

46:

Reading a Dan Brown with a hobbyist (or more) informed knowledge of anything tends to do that to you. In my case, it was theology. And boy, was I in for a ride…

Dan Brown novels basically don't have an outline, but just fall from one Critical Research Failure into another.

47:

Including a mere knowledge of English as it is spoken and written.
I looked through one, once, and decided to twiddle my thumbs instead.

48:

As you know, the same thing applies to (innovative) programming,
with the variation that you must alter history to maintain strict
consistency. Adding comments after the first stable version is
often a good way to do it (and is my usual practice), but many
people don't because it is tedious to do well. By then, you know
better what aspects are likely to be important as far as linkages
are concerned, and which aspects have been left a bit loose. I
used to be a rereader (like you), but found that it was getting
tedious, so increased the amount of such linkage commenting. But
I like Kipling here: "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing
tribal lays, and every single one of them is right."

49:

I will add that I can outline just fine -- on non-fiction. Up to about 3000 words I mostly don't need an outline, but for long-format NF that's covering two or more themes at the very least I start with a list of section headings.

But non-fiction isn't a creative process in the same way, as a rule. (There's a blurred area: what do you call blog essays like the zombie/vampire index one, which explore an untapped topic?)

50:

An important and noteworthy point is that even well-researched [techno-]thrillers fall into Critical Research Fail territory when the author hits their personal Dunning Kruger effect threshold and starts talking about something they think they understand but don't, really.

A common example of this is folks of Doctrinaire Political Ideology (A) trying to describe the thought processes/motivations of folks from DPI (B), especially if they don't know any of the latter (for values of "know" somewhere between "chew the cud with them in the pub on a weekly basis" to "are married to").

Prime example: Tom Clancy's book "Rainbow Six" and the revolutionary praxis of the deep green environmental activists, which catapults past mere "no, really, they wouldn't do that", through WTF, and all the way out to the hinterlands of ROFL. (For those of you who don't know any deep green environmental activists, a reasonable metaphor for Clancy's plot would involve a bunch of committed Jihadis joining the Catholic Church and becoming cardinals and electing a Pope in order to further their plan to bring about the triumph of Islam over Christianity.)

It's a frequent failing of books written by authoritarians (predominantly but not exclusively right-wing) trying to describe wishy-washy flexible liberals: they tend to believe that inside every liberal there's an authoritarian trying to get out. The converse is not true, but unless they've got liberal family members authoritarians are unlikely to have a gut feeling for this, and so their character portrayal -- and thus character-based aspects of plot -- tend to be ludicrously wrong. (See also "Footfall" by Niven and Pournelle, and a long list of other mil-SF over the years.)

Alternatively: anything involving evolutionary biology (stories with DINOSAURS!!!1!!!ELEVENTY!!! -- but also alien ecosystems) by someone whose background was high school level biology lessons and who lives in that part of the world where "evolution is just a theory" is routinely spouted by ordinary folks who don't know what the fuck a theory is. Stories involving space colonies and terraforming by folks who think all you need is blue-green algae and soy. And so on.

The annoying thing about this sort of Critical Research Fail is that it tends to emerge when people absorb a cultural assumption that everyone buys into but which has no real validity -- it's just been grandfathered in like the salt/hypertension myth because it goes back so far that everybody around them knows it to be true.

See also filter bubbles, going forward ...

51:

Yes. There are areas of non-fiction (and programming!) that have
the property that the development of the theme necessarily changes
the overall viewpoint and objective, but they are unusual. Some
people may do them a lot, but that doesn't change that point. My
experience with them is that a post hoc outline is often well
worthwhile, for future developments, but starting from one is
nothing but a handicap.

52:

God help me, this is true of a majority of 'known facts' in many
academic areas, several of which are very heavily used in science
fiction, largely because of the modern dominance of specialisation.
It is extremely hard to condemn fiction writers if even the leading
scientists propose the errors. In addition to the areas you
mention, the computational limit morass is particularly bad. But
the evolutionary biology one is pretty close, including the much-
disproven but apparently immortal 'savanna ape' theory.

53:

this is true of a majority of 'known facts' in many academic areas, several of which are very heavily used in science fiction, largely because of the modern dominance of specialisation.

That's one reason I can't use "white room" writing tools, or indeed write effectively without an internet connection -- I'm always stopping to fact-check, and by always I mean "several times an hour". Wikipedia and google aren't a university research library but they cover about 80% of the ground for most non-obscure topics, as long as you've got your bullshit detector well-engaged.

54:

How much should we expect oblique parody of known work to leak into future Laundry books, the way Cold Comfort Farm & Hot Fuzz leaked into Equoid? Because, it seems like if you wanted to double-down on the britishness there's a wealth of stuff in the genre that, say, Scarfolk parodies. I could see some of the ideas from The Rhesus Chart pointing towards a uniquely interesting Laundry take on The Midwich Cuckoos, for instance.

55:

Prime example: Tom Clancy's book "Rainbow Six" and the revolutionary praxis of the deep green environmental activists...

This entire comment is a moment of genius clarity - part of why the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy is so great is that even the characters most committed to a deep 'red' vision of Mars are somewhat sympathetic. (It's a tad blase / crude for him to make Ann Clayborn have a background that includes sexual assault as some kind of psychological justification for her love of the planet over the terraforming 'human' vision, but compared to everyone else's vision of Deep Green thought it's remarkably sympathetic).

If you're looking for some DG / Literary types, try:

http://dark-mountain.net/

Although their tone is somewhat defeated; I often wonder what would have happened if governments hadn't spent so much time and energy making bogey-men out of environmental groups, infiltrating them and spiking their messages.

The theory being that 'good old' Tom Clancy is just a tip of the spear on the matter: you can often tell the fake ones by their use of paramilitary methods.

I loved this one as well:

It's the Lovecraftian Singularity -- what happens if we replace transhumanism with gibbering post-chthonianism.


Funny thing.

I have a memory of reading Equoid not on the Tor main page, and not labelled as authored by the our host. And before 2013. (This isn't an accusation of plagiarism, more a memory slice from another dimension. Or I've hacked too many computers. Or I found a draft copy somehow).

The universe makes more sense that I'm here and he did author it...

Anything that looks like My Little Pony is going to take a one-way trip through an acid bath and a furnace on sight.

One of the particular things I'm not sure you can translate is the English cultural dimension of young women and horses.

Dressage. I always knew Dressage was the work of Elder Gods. shub shub.

56:

You and me, both - and I am writing some extremely non-fictional
material at present! Actually, I have downloaded enough references
to make that about 5-10 times a day, but ....

57:

Stories involving space colonies and terraforming by folks who think all you need is blue-green algae and soy.

If you bring a little dirt, the soy has a chance to survive.

And there are probably some people who can more-or-less survive on blue-green algae and soy. If they get ten generations for evolutionary biology to happen they'll be on their way.

That's the beauty of building ecosystems. If you build a bridge and you don't know what you're doing, it will probably fall down. Maybe it will last long enough to fall down while you're on it.

You can't possibly know everything you need to know about building ecosystems. But if you build one, there's an excellent chance that you will in fact wind up with an ecosystem, and the remaining issue is finding some way to survive in it.

It's almost like having an AI that builds a whole lot of bridges to its own taste and you get to see whether any of them take you someplace you want to go.

When a writer waves his hands and assumes the ecology worked out, he is assuming that somebody tried something that worked out. Nobody had to understand why it worked, they just found something they could use.

So in Red/Green/Blue Mars, where people are always drinking coffee and kava, we can assume that they found a way to build little ecologies with coffee trees and kava. Without that, if coffee was importado between planets, they wouldn't get much of it. And researchers could easily spend many thousands of lifetimes studying how the coffee-tree ecology worked in detail, but what they did was just to get something that worked and then they stuck with that without understanding it much.

58:

A very poor one. It's easy in the short term, but fiendish in the
longer term. There is currently some serious research into minimal
stable ecologies, but it's a tricky area.

59:

I don't think you can expect stability in simple ecosystems when each population has short-run selection to evolve in ways that destabilize the system.

What might work is to keep a library of original and evolved genomes, and run probably hundreds of production systems in parallel, trying to get no contamination from one to another. When one of them goes bad you sterilize it and reseed it from another that's successful or from the library. Keep enough parallel systems running that you usually have a nice surplus. You aren't in danger unless too many of them fail at once.

Not rocket science.

60:

No, it's considerably harder than rocket science (which is actually
trivial - it's rocket engineering that is hard!) The mistake you
are making is assuming that sterilization will get you back to
square one; it won't. That has been tried in open ecologies, such
as greenhouse horticulture, and doesn't work, because the substrate
changes its biochemical nature both with time and with each
restart, cumulatively. That isn't just the accumulation of toxins
and reduction of nutrients, either, but the way that the change in
balance affects the microflora.

61:

Let me put it this way, since I'm actively learning about this at the moment.

About the time I was getting my PhD in ecology, around a decade ago, I didn't realize that there was a revolution starting in evolutionary biology.

It's in the right-before-the-dam bursts mode now, so basically, if your take on evolution comes from the 20th Century, you're as out of date as I am. Here's the test: have you heard of the geographic mosaic of coevolution theory? If not, you're behind the times.

Yes, it's the fusion of ecology and evolution. It's dealing with things like evolution of antibiotic/pesticide resistance, polyploidization, symbiosis, and, as an aside, suggesting very strongly that domestication isn't actually that special as an evolutionary force (in other words, there's little difference between artificial and natural selection). In other words, it's the idea that evolution is going on basically every day, and scientists are only now really realizing how ubiquitous it is.

So savanna apes? Who cares? I suspect evolutionary biology is more where computer science was in the early 1990s. I *really* feel sorry for anyone who's sticking with creationism, especially when evolution and ecology start becoming part of the standard pre-med curriculum at more schools (how else to deal with antibiotic resistance and the emergence of new pathogens?)

62:

The mistake you are making is assuming that sterilization will get you back to square one; it won't. That has been tried in open ecologies, such as greenhouse horticulture, and doesn't work, because the substrate changes its biochemical nature both with time and with each restart, cumulatively.

Try to use simple substrates that are not very reactive. Things like glass and teflon. If biologists had to worry about changes in their test tubes very time they washed and autoclaved them, they would spend a lot of time worrying. But usually they can get by.

Of course, putting all this stuff -- hundreds of little ecosystems and all the supporting needs for harvesting, cleaning, sterilizing, etc -- on a spaceship to put into high orbit of farther, that involves a small matter of engineering.

63:

Right. All that was pretty clear a few decades back but, as usual,
predicting when the Received Wisdom is going to be overthrown by
its successor is a bit tricky. My guess is that it will be some
decades before people make enough sense of evolutionary biology to
create a new, stable Received Wisdom.

And, to J Thomas, I was referring to the nutrients etc. (e.g. the
sterilized soil) as the substrate. Nobody has yet worked out how
to start a useful (to humans) ecology from the basic chemicals
alone, let alone how to recycle those near-perfectly.

64:

If you bring a little dirt, the soy has a chance to survive.

Congratulations, you just proved my point.

How many species are there in "a little dirt"?

Hint: by one estimate, 2000-5000 bacterial species per 500 milligram sample with only 20% overlap between different regions. And around 90% of identified DNA or RNA in soil and seawater is from virii, which are a major vector for gene exchange. And only 1-5% of soil bacteria can be cultured in the lab.

Upshot: adding "a bit of dirt" to soy and algae adds somewhere north of 5000 additional species ... and that's before we get into identifying sources of micronutrients that soy and algae can't supply us with!

65:

And, to J Thomas, I was referring to the nutrients etc. (e.g. the sterilized soil) as the substrate. Nobody has yet worked out how to start a useful (to humans) ecology from the basic chemicals alone, let alone how to recycle those near-perfectly.

Yes. So to make it work with adequate short-term reliability, you want your production systems to be an ecology of micro-organisms. The product which you eat might get called "cheese" or "soup" etc. To keep things simple, your excreta probably should be degraded to simple compounds, maybe with extreme heat.

If your food suddenly poisons you, then you did it wrong.

Things like blue-green algae tend to make too many nucleic acids and not enough protein etc. You might want to choose people who can tolerate that, rather than fiddle with the ecologies to fit the people's preferences.

By trial and error you get something that works adequately, for long enough batches that you can get by, and then by trial and error you find improvements.

You can't expect to do it on any reasonable timescale by understanding how the whole thing works.

66:

No, you can't. But you can't expect to do it with any reasonable
probability of success by trial and error.

67:

I will make a prediction that, sometime in the next quarter century
or so, people will discover that something like loose plasmids or
prions also have an important role in some ecologies :-)

68:

Actually, sometime in the past few years, there was a study in the US that involved asking people of different political outlooks to answer questions as if they were adherents of outlooks other than their own; my recollection is that it emerged from Jonathan Haidt's group. Liberals did worse than either libertarians or conservatives. I don't offer that as conclusive proof of anything, but it suggests that things may be less one-sided than you think. Or perhaps your political environment in the UK is different from ours in the US.

69:

How many species are there in "a little dirt"?

Hint: by one estimate, 2000-5000 bacterial species per 500 milligram sample with only 20% overlap between different regions.

Those are the ones that are common enough to notice. There could easily be a million rare ones in there.

And around 90% of identified DNA or RNA in soil and seawater is from virii, which are a major vector for gene exchange. And only 1-5% of soil bacteria can be cultured in the lab.

So basicly you don't know what's going on. One interesting approach has been to look at DNA for enzymes for specific physiological pathways, and estimate the importance of that pathway by the amount of DNA. Sort of looking at the big patterns of physiology without looking at which organisms are doing it! That has a lot of promise, but it tells you nothing about what new pathways might be important if something changes. A rare organism might become common when it gets its chance, and you might think of that as the ecology retooling its physiology.

Upshot: adding "a bit of dirt" to soy and algae adds somewhere north of 5000 additional species ... and that's before we get into identifying sources of micronutrients that soy and algae can't supply us with!

Sure. So to use that approach, you have to hope that the various micro-organisms will mostly hold each other in check. And they mostly will. When things go obviously bad, you destroy the whole thing, sterilize your containers, and start over.

You could grow gnotobiotic soybeans, but then you have to keep your grubby hands away from them or your own flora could mess things up.

Soybeans don't seem very good. It takes a long time to grow them. (Use GM soybeans that grow faster? But they'll still be slow.) They're toxic. (Use GM soybeans that aren't toxic?) They make lots of roots and stems and leaves that must be disposed of. (Use GM soybeans with no stems and with edible leaves?) I expect for decades they would be a luxury that people played with, and the staples came from elsewhere.

Better to use mainly micro-organisms. When you eat them you call it "soup" or "cheese" or "gunk" or whatever. If you use mixed cultures, you risk that they get out of balance and cause you troubles. If you use pure cultures or very simple systems, you risk that they just might not be very stable, and also contamination is a bigger issue. But say you get something that grows in a thick film and doubles in 6 hours, then when one goes bad you sterilize and clean the container, and in 6 hours you transfer half of another container to this one instead of to dinner or recycler.

... and that's before we get into identifying sources of micronutrients that soy and algae can't supply us with!

When you identify a new vitamin, then for a simple system you add the genes to your dominant species and then it does supply it. Hurray, you identified a new vitamin! Or maybe it's better to create GM astronauts who make their own vitamins.

It makes sense to start out with single algae that create food. Break down your excreta with high heat or something, create nitrates and sulfates and phospates and CO2 etc, that you can give to the algae. Wasteful for energy, but simple. Again, run lots of them in parallel and cull the ones that you like least. With hundreds of parallel systems, you have a good chance that not too many fail at once. With the majority of their output going straight to the recycler, you can weather moderate failures.

Once we have some systems that work adequately, then we can put a lot of effort into studying why they work. We can't expect to understand that ahead of time.

We learned to make useful metals before we understood much metallurgy. We learned to breed useful crops before we understood much genetics. We trained horses and dogs before we knew much psychology. It's how we've always done things. Get the early results first, then figure it out. So that's how we'll do it when we know ahead of time that we can never ever figure it out in detail.

70:

But what we did NOT do was to rely on that experimentation being
successful for our survival as a species. In most cases, we had
the fallback of previous tried and proven methods to ensure that
failure meant that not all of a group died. In others, we know
that a high proportion of groups that relied on their experiments
being successful either died out, or were saved only by help from
another group. Unless you are postulating many thousands of Mars
missions, with only a few surviving, the situations are not even
remotely analogous.

71:

And in the end it is Humanity that emerges from the Lovecraft Singularity as the ultimate predatory horror across the multiverse, after pulling the wings of Cthulhu and friends as an appetizer.

72:

So what do you end up with? Total extinction of the biosphere or a new equilibrium shifted towards a much simpler state?

73:

The former, because anything that would kill the humans would mean
the failure of the life support.

75:

The question isn't how many sealed bottle gardens are thriving after 40 years; it's how many SBGs died.

76:

I would suggest that one is enough.

77:

The idea of parasites being an important part of a magical ecology, and yet missing from Earth is an interesting one.

There are plenty of god-like beings in the multiverse, most of them apparently nasty. And humans have a built-in instinct for religion, creating all sorts of varieties of them.

Which, in the context of the Laundryverse, would seem to indicate that their are missing divine parasites. There should be some parasitic or symbiotic being feeding on humans, but their niche is now empty, leaving humans invasive to invasive parasites and predators from other parts of the multiverse.

(If native human religions worked and there were native gods around, they presumably would defend their territory from outsiders.)

78:

That was why people used to think that it was going to be fairly
easy, until they tried introducing higher animals, when things
started to go to hell in a handbasket. I don't know if they have
managed to keep even insects alive in a long-term bottle garden,
and vertebrates are VASTLY more demanding!

79:

That is also assuming higher lifeforms are actually sharing the bottle rather than merely harvesting it.

80:

Well given Mo's arc I did wonder that would be a version of the Eternal champion with Bob A Jahary A Connel, Spooky as Wiskers (the flying cat).

Mo is Elric (Erica) and the Voilin is Stormbringer

81:

Constable Savage is a call out to the famous not the nine oclock news sketch.

82:

I did wonder how Shiller would be able to survive long term on the Plateau.

And wouldn't one of 666 squadron reapers or its USA equivalent have used a hellfire missile on him by now.

83:

I know they've done hawaiian opae shrimp in bottle aquaria (they're for sale in a department store in Honolulu), and I know that aquarium snails can survive short-term bottle experiments as done in college teaching labs. Beyond that, I'm not sure what's possible right now.

As for insects, that gets tricky. It might be interesting to run with something like a colony of lower attine ants (relatives of leafcutter ants, but with smaller and simpler colonies that can survive on a variety of fungi). Or termites, perhaps. Still, I agree: enclosed ecosystems with any complexity are difficult to maintain.

One reason I'm really not interested in getting into that discussion about closed ecosystems again is that we're all suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect on this topic, and most of the people who want to talk about it don't seem to even be aware of how vast our ignorance is. The other reason is that we talked about it, years ago, when Charlie was interested in starship design.

84:

Unless you are postulating many thousands of Mars missions, with only a few surviving, the situations are not even remotely analogous.

Hey, in Golden-age SF it was common for an inventor to build the first spaceship one day, and take it to the other side of the galaxy the next day on the assumption nothing would go wrong that would need a repair shop. But we don't have to be that way.

85:

The interesting question is what could have caused that? The main possibilities are:
1. Magical parasites don't have time to evolve before the invasive types move in. Maybe it's not a viable strategy to sit around on a planet waiting for intelligence to develop, because it rarely does, so the only available parasites are alien. Maybe it's something else.
2. Magical parasites developed at one point, but they were wiped out. Maybe it was the Deep Ones, or the pre-Cambrian civilizations, or some sort of catastrophe, but something destroyed all of the magical parasites native to Earth. Sufficiently powerful civilizations would have an incentive to destroy the native parasites, and then simply summon alien parasites for short times when they can be useful. Or maybe there was some natural force which destroyed the parasites. Maybe the stars were wrong at one point, and the parasites died off, and the entire history of magic has been a result of the initial effects of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN allowing alien parasites to manifest.

86:

Yes, several aquatic invertebrates have been maintained in the
short term. Just possibly, someone has achieved more, but I
haven't heard of it, and I think that I would have done. And,
yes, it was debated earlier, with equally unproductive results.

87:

There is also the possibility that HSS is a relatively newcomer by evolutionary standards, so our parasites are either somewhat adapted to other sapients, making us close to dead-end hosts, or still close to their predatory/destructivor ancestors.

As for other hominids, the Neanderthals (I have given up on following Linnean systematics at that point) apparently were somewhat lacking in the symbolic department, which might mean they were either better suited for CNG, or the Neanderthals we know were simple the survivors of another CNG wiping out the more perceptive of their, err, whatever.

As for Equoid, what I found somewhat interesting was that the Laundry started out as quite atheist (OK, we know there is one true god, but that came somewhat later), rationalist horror. Now we even have a tangible idea of life after death. I'm somewhat interested how OGH wrote himself into that one. Might be some playing with trans- and posthumanism on his part, might be the idea of "information doesn't need matter or energy" had some unintended consequences.

88:

Dear H.!
Remember the large bottle garden you gave me a few years back? It's actually still thriving, something I wanted to tell you all the time. You did a great job there! A few weeks back, I found these weird little worms in there, here and there poking out of the soil and then withdrawing. Odd, isn't it? I recall you didn't put any animals in there, maybe something went wrong with sterilization? So far they seem to be clustered in one patch, a few cm across. poking, withdrawin, poking a bit further out, withdrawing. Sometimes their motion reminds of a sea-anemone ...

Anyway, just a heads up, I'm sure the garden won't sustain the worms for long, so I'll pluck them out now. Here's hoping the garden will do finefor another years once I got them.

Cheers!

89:

I really, really like that explanation why characterizations of deep-green protagonists etc. in some books sound so WTF wrong - Niven is a good example, and one of the reasons why I don't read him anymore.

90:

Interesting idea that the 'magic' dimension or realm should be as complex an ecosystem as our 'real world'. Looking forward to learning how magic evolution works, who's at the top of that particular pyramid, and who's the magic equivalent of a vegan.

91:

"Equoid" is a nightmare for translators because of all the cultural references flying past their heads

I sometimes wish your work would be translated into American, since some of your stories give me a vague impression of being full of references. I'm pretty sure they're meant to give the reader a distinct impression of being full of references to things the reader actually recognizes, but no dice.

Hint: When asked to identify the president of England, maybe half of Americans would realize it's a trick question.

92:

I sometimes wish your work would be translated into American, since some of your stories give me a vague impression of being full of references. I'm pretty sure they're meant to give the reader a distinct impression of being full of references to things the reader actually recognizes, but no dice.

What you need is something like the online annotated Eliot:

http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/

Given that Ebooks are now a thing (and give host more % cut each time) it might be an idea for a collaborative effort to footnote all the references (with host providing Rods from God oversight) that you could load into your e-reader. e.g. Load it in, references are highlighted > click on them, popup tells you what's being referenced.

I'll leave other people to note how feasible this is: but it's precisely what the tech was designed to do. (Link for every word, remember?)


Regarding discussions on closed systems / ecological modelling thereof. People seem to forget that the primordial soup was a vast ocean of elements and catalyst chains before it started wriggling.

The idea you can do a biosphere I/II etc is hilarious in its naivety. (Hint: your building materials are part of the damn soup).


Anyway, just a heads up, I'm sure the garden won't sustain the worms for long, so I'll pluck them out now.

Unless this is a metaphor or code, why would you take worms out of soil? Ever?

93:

"People seem to forget that the primordial soup was a vast ocean of elements and catalyst chains before it started wriggling."

More so than now?

94:

More so than now?

Yes, of course.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypercycle_%28chemistry%29
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis#Autocatalysis

More complex organisms preclude this because they're far better at it. i.e. you simply don't get the same % level of hypercycles present because they're being done inside organisms.

This is basic, ya?


95:

If you need a translation:

Making closed ecosystems work is hard because the very basics of chemistry > biology are the same things.

What people forget is you're essentially cheating on time rather than anything else. You're not making "closed ecosystems", you're making "closed ecosystems fast" while using 2-3 billion years of tech to do so.

Your Space is finite (thus closed) and you're hacking in species (in particular ants, that killed off biosphere II) that are catalysts in themselves. The idea that species / individuals in populations are catalysts in themselves should be fairly obvious.

Oh, and H.S.S aren't parasites: the definition of a parasite is that it lives on or inside another organism.


As to the question about pest A being wiped out allowing pest B to be worse: it's probably America, potatoes or corn. It's happened a few times.

96:

(Sorry - triple post badness)

Fungi are catalysts.

If you want to start to why closed systems break down, start on them.

97:

popup tells you what's being referenced.

What would be the point? If a joke didn't land, explaining it won't help.

To really convey the feel of the material, a translator would have to rewrite it replacing all the English references with references to American stuff. They could maybe keep Shaun of the Dead and, if the target audience is old enough, Monty Python references.

98:

That's actually not the problem. On the Earth, we have absolutely gigantic pools of nutrients, not all of which (or in cases like iron and silicon, very little of which) are actually being used by the biosphere. If something goes horribly wrong (e.g. a mass extinction), or just horribly weird (e.g. the evolution of wood), there's such an enormous surplus that things can run for hundreds of millions of years without running short of a particular element, except on a local scale.

In a small closed ecosystem like Biosphere II, you've got very small pools of nutrients, and a comparatively large biosphere. You've got to be very efficient with your nutrient cycling, or the nutrients end up in unusable forms (N2 gas, for example), and the system crashes due to a lack of the right elements in the right form at the right time. When you add in more than one trophic level, it gets far more complex. This is why algae and snails or shrimp work for a few months or years, but adding in a snail-eating fish makes it easy to crash the system. The snails and shrimp can go for months without eating, but once the fish has eaten the snails, that's it for the fish and the snails.

99:

In a small closed ecosystem like Biosphere II, you've got very small pools of nutrients, and a comparatively large biosphere.

That's what I said. Sigh. DK effect.


If you took your closed ecosystem and started it at the level of the primordial (hypercycle) level with sunlight as a freebie, then in (perhaps) a couple of billion years you'd get an ecosystem that was stable and functioning.

It just wouldn't have complex life in it beyond the bacterial / viral unless you were really lucky.


Thus I call all attempts at creating "closed" ecosystems on the human scale naive and stupid.


But thanks, I guess, for making the point clear.

100:

What would be the point? If a joke didn't land, explaining it won't help.

To really convey the feel of the material, a translator would have to rewrite it replacing all the English references with references to American stuff.


What? That's not how language or semantic or mimetic networks or translation work.

The reader gets to see the networks behind the joke, then understands it, then appreciates the humour.

You get references to the Wasteland to allow you to know what the author was saying in a cultural space.

You're asking for a total conversion, which is insane: different cultures produce different thoughts and feelings. Monty Python: name me an equivalent.

Hint:

Chinese movies are really fucking funny. You have to spend a few years immersing yourself in the language, culture and watching too many before you get it. But when it clicks, damn - funny, funny, funny.

Unless you believe that Babylon is a goal? Human Minds don't work like that. (Ahh.. I see. HiveMind American Cultural Space at work? Hint: Consumerism =/= culture).

101:

@Jay

Actually, apologies: I remember you stating that you were on the autistic spectrum. I should have been kinder in my response.

And "insane" was out of order.

Memory failure - ignore the stigma, take the rational explanation.


@Heter

If you want to start thinking about this differently, here's three points to consider:

1) Parasites (even hyper-parasites) and so on are a form of mutualism when considered in a larger web (Pest A vrs Pest B - the host takes the least worst option / the parasite evolves to be the least worse option for success). The infamous "war of tooth and claw" might actually be "the war of least pissing off of each species even while I eat you from the inside out".

2) Fungi as catalysts. Think about other things that exist as catalysts. Not just tree root tips or your gut. Think both macro (predators as controls) and micro (viral diseases); start thinking about the ratios of energy movement in ecosystems relative to mass and energy consumption. This is really important.

3) If it's all biochemical (which it is before 6k BCE) then why do you treat the behavioural evolution of a species (wolves > dogs > puppy instincts kept in adulthood) as not catalysts? Compare / contrast the micro levels.


Then do a bit of DG thinking about it.


If you pump about 10(n+8) joules into a system from fossil fuels, why are we only seeing entropy? (Time, for sure).

What would you usually expect from dumping that amount of free energy into an ecosystem? Why isn't that happening? And so on.

[DK in effect - asking in plain terms, but referencing some specific things]

102:

In a small closed ecosystem like Biosphere II, you've got very small pools of nutrients, and a comparatively large biosphere.

Why do it that way?

I was thinking that what was desired was the equivalent of a few hundred small farms. For each human they support, they should produce around 2000 calories, 50 grams of protein, fatty acids, vitamins, etc. Per day. You want a bunch of them so that if some of them go bad you have lots of backups to use while you're reseeding the bad ones.

This has very little relationship to re-building Noah's Ark and getting it to run itself indefinitely without interference.

I assume that you have lots of energy available in some other form -- nuclear reactor or at least a fraction of a megawatt of solar panels etc -- and the issue is to convert that to calories of edible nutritious food. If you don't have lots of energy available to sterilize things, then you're probably screwed. Something will show up that you don't want and you can't get rid of, it will eventually contaminate everything you need to keep it out of, and there's nothing you can do but hope it goes away plus try to learn to live with it.

If you have enough energy, then too much N2 is fixable -- you fix the N2 yourself. If you have nitrogen-fixing bacteria that do that job sufficiently for you that's great, but you don't have to depend on them.

With enough energy, you don't have to worry about your food -> shit -> fertilizer -> food cycle building up useless organic chemicals that you can't get rid of. You can oxidise everything that oxidises, and then provide water, CO2, nitrates, sulfates, phosphates, etc as fertilizer. It isn't energy-efficient and it's cheating the closed-system natural self-regulating cycle of nature which doesn't work reliably enough to bet your life on. So what?

It just plain does not make sense to take Biosphere into space. It's the wrong kind of farm. Say you're living in a Biosphere and you plant some corn. It has ideal conditions and you choose a super-fast-growing strain so in 60 days you get 2 ears of corn. After you eat your meal you have a cornstalk and 2 corncobs. You can compost those and it takes two to six months before they're ready to fertilize a new corn plant. The majority of your corn biomass is stuck in the long slow decomposition process.

What does it get you beyond the warm glow of knowing you're being natural? If you can spare the energy, thoroughly oxidize any organic material you think of as waste, and use it as fertilizer immediately.

Why run more reactors than you need, when you'll just burn the surplus? Why not just keep some of it as stored food and only run more reactors when you need them? Because of the law of large numbers. The time to have a whole lot of going concerns is now. You don't want to set up a bunch of fresh ones and hope they work, after you're already eating the stored food. And start with the shortest life cycles you can find, because the longer you wait to turn fertilizer into food, the more chance something goes wrong and the longer it takes to harvest the replacement.

It isn't sustainable ecosystems. It's just a kind of farming.

103:

I was thinking that what was desired was the equivalent of a few hundred small farms. For each human they support, they should produce around 2000 calories, 50 grams of protein, fatty acids, vitamins, etc. Per day.

That's insane. Time / Space? You're on a fucking space station where both are at a premium.

No farm produces anything per day.

The closest you're going to get is hydroponics with fast GM'd veg or black-fly insects (for protein).

Hint: if you could do it like that, the CCCP would have done it.

Ok, I have to say this:

FOR HOLY FUCKS SAKE - THE SUN IS A GIANT NUCLEAR REACTOR AND YOU GET THE ENERGY FOR FREE AND STILL PEOPLE HAVE TO SPEND A THIRD OF A YEAR TO GET A CROP GROWING. WHAT THE HOLY FUCK DO YOU THINK NATURAL SYSTEMS WORK LIKE?


Have you no idea what chemical fertilizers do? Or how much energy (bat guano before whales/fish before oil) do?


You. Are. Fucking. Kidding. Me.

104:

The infamous "war of tooth and claw" might actually be "the war of least pissing off of each species even while I eat you from the inside out".

Sure, and that's on all levels at once. Anthropomorphising, imagine you're a parasite on host A. You damage host A some. Host A is in competition for key resources with host B that you can't damage. Your damage to A makes it less competitive, and when its numbers go down that hurts your children's chance of survival. So you want to avoid unnecessary damage to your host. And as you say, at the same time you'd prefer that your host direct its defenses against some harsher parasite rather than you.

105:

Oh, and reality check:

Factory farming chickens.

0 > 42 days to "maturity", relies on:

Gene splicing
Gross mis-use of drugs (largely antibiotics but also growth hormones)
Vast amounts of high energy feed
Vast amounts of water / energy expenditure on environment

Which is predicated upon:

Water costing almost nothing
High calorie feeds based on oil based chemical fertilizers

And so on.

You get cheap chicken (I'm using the base level of 'acceptable' protein here) because the costs don't matter at this point.

None, and I mean none of these are based upon solar tech. It's all oil - which takes about a billion years to get ready.


The moment you put your food purely on solar and energy?


You're fucked.

It's the reason why there were about a 500 million people in 1907 and about 7 billion in 2007.

Jesus wept.

106:

"I was thinking that what was desired was the equivalent of a few hundred small farms. For each human they support, they should produce around 2000 calories, 50 grams of protein, fatty acids, vitamins, etc. Per day."

That's insane. Time / Space? You're on a fucking space station where both are at a premium.

Yes, exactly.

No farm produces anything per day.

The closest you're going to get is hydroponics with fast GM'd veg or black-fly insects (for protein).

Look at the ocean. Most of the energy comes from algae that under good conditions have a doubling time of maybe one day. Some of them under ideal conditions can double three times a day (eightfold) or even more. And on average they get eaten back enough that they support a much larger biomass of things that eat them and things that eat those etc, than their own biomass.

This is not ideal for farming because they do this in dilute concentration in water, and when they are crowded that isn't ideal conditions. Also they typically are not ideal as a single food source for humans.

But imagine that you could find or design a type of algae that gets past those limitations. Then one half kilo of algae that doubled twice in a day gives you one or more kilos of algae for food. The worse you do at getting past those limitations, the less ideal it gets. If you need 50 kilos of water for them to grow in, that's worse than 10 kilos. If they double only once a day then you need a whole kilo of algae to provide you with a kilo of food per day.

As you point out, traditional farming will be very expensive on a space station etc where time and space are at a premium.

You. Are. Fucking. Kidding. Me.

No, I'm not. We don't begin to know how to do this well. A lot of trial and error is needed, and we might likely stumble onto something that's heading toward being adequate that way. My guess is that we would probably want algae that can grow in films on surfaces, so they get a big surface area exposed to air for fast gas exchange. We would want many layers with close lights or mirrors between them, so that each algal film gets plenty of light.

We can't expect to design something like that from scratch and expect it to work. But people didn't design from scratch when they invented yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, beer, etc. They found things that would grow in the conditions they had available, and then they chose a version that was reasonably nontoxic.

107:

The infamous "war of tooth and claw" might actually

So far as I know, this slogan's basically a capitalist slogan from the 1920s-30s.

The problem was that some anarchist/communist theorists came up with the idea of mutualism, basically a mutually beneficial symbiosis. This they used to promulgate the idea that therefore communism was the natural political theory. The capitalists fought back with competition making America strong, nature red in tooth and claw, and competition being the normal order of things.

This bit of political idiocy set the study of evolution back decades. Even into the 1980s, talking about symbiosis on a US grant application would get it automatically turned down.

As we now know, eukaryotes came about due to a mutualism that became the eukaryotic cell, and basically every eukaryote has mutualistic relationships with bacteria, as well as fungi and other organisms.

You can even frame it in business terms: most organisms outsource some of their essential functions to other organisms, just as most businesses subcontract some essential functions to other firms. Phrased this way, you'd wonder what the fuss was.

Thing is, I couldn't have said that 30 years ago without being accused of being a communist sympathizer, stupid as it sounds. Turns out the anarchists were right, but few in the US or the UK wanted to listen (in the Soviet bloc, they were similarly stupid about competition. Go figure).

Yes, evolution's political. Shocking, isn't it?

108:

No problem. I'm pretty hard to offend.

I was an anime fan in the '90s, and some of the translating companies would rewrite jokes or even whole plots. It worked well enough, and they were constrained by the need to write dialogue that fit the preexisting mouth animations.

The payoff for a reference is the feeling of recognition in the audience. A footnote saying "this is a reference to something you've never seen and don't care about" isn't the same.

It's true that I could get the same effect by taking a lengthy remedial course in English 1980s children's culture, but that doesn't seem like a very good use of my time.

More to the point, the U.S. is by far the biggest market for English-language literature, including the novels of OGH. If Americans reading a story think "What was that about?", it's not good for business.

109:

Stories involving space colonies and terraforming by folks who think all you need is blue-green algae and soy.
Will work ... provided you add ...
LOTS of TIME.
See the early Larry Niven "Protector".
Where the "Caretaker" ( & his her many-generations sucessors ) lives on the moon (of wherever)& watches the seeded planet.

110:

THANKS for that ... I will go away & look it up.

Meanwhile, how are the various brain-dead, both christian & muslim, going to handle this given that: "Evil-ution is worng" ???
Fun times ahead?

111:

Or water - from a lake.
I'm just reading the latest in the magnificent New Naturalist series: Lakes, Loughs & Lochs
Which leans heavily on the enormous diversity & interconnectedness of all the living things & the exchanges between them, down to the "prokaryonte" level.

112:

Plant LEGUMES instead.
And recycle (compost) their remains ....

113:

Actually, it was much worse in the SovUnion.
Look up the fate of Vavilov.
[ Though I didn't realise that "symbiosis" was a bad word - that is really potty.

114:

I think you are over-simplifying and mangling the history. The
dogma that competition mustn't be controlled is much older - look
at the Corn Laws rows for a classic example. And there is no hard
boundary between parasitism, mutualism and symbiosis - indeed two
organisms can be in all three relationships simultaneously. But,
generally, I agree with your post.

On the modern belief that all forms of non-monetarist cooperation
are Evil Communism, there was a science fiction short story about
a 'neo-libertarian' tyranny that forbade farmers even to assist
one another, but I now forget its name and author. However, some
of the recent (decades) changes in the UK and things like TTIP give
me a horrible feeling that it is prophetic.

115:

"Nature red in tooth and claw" is Tennyson, and I don't recognise
the phrase "war of tooth and claw" as a slogan, though a search
indicates that it was in use by 1915 (the Nelson Evening Mail, no
less!)

116:

Nope, not DK effect, merely an artefact of your unclear communicating style. It's better for people to re-state what they think you have said or something related than continuing in ignorance of what you are on about.

Also just try to have a conversation, rather than a lecture, it's more fun.

117:

It just plain does not make sense to take Biosphere into space. It's the wrong kind of farm.

Correct, but ...

If you can spare the energy, thoroughly oxidize any organic material you think of as waste, and use it as fertilizer immediately.

Now here we run into one of the more interesting gotchas of space travel/colonization: waste heat. Vacuum is a really good insulator, and even though our heat sink is at a chilly 2.3 degrees Kelvin, it's hard to dump enough heat into it when you're only radiating around the 300 Kelvin mark. Photosynthesis doesn't work well above about 310 Kelvin, so without some really nifty biological engineering -- equivalent to trying to design Concorde in 1910, if we look at it with today's eyes -- we're not going to be able to run our agricultural side using higher-temperature chemistry.

Yes, our postulated space colony can have a "hot chemical processes" module, off to one side up some insulated trusses, where everything runs at 500 Kelvin and we can char down surplus lignin. Yes, it can have countercurrent cooling/heating systems to warm up incoming biomass and cool down departing materials by recycling the same heat -- to an extent. But Boltzmann's gonna get you eventually and while we may have simplified/reduced the "farm" side of the system we've increased the complexity of the "factory" side.

118:

The general blue-sky remit for brainstorming on agriculture in space on this blog isn't generally the ISS on steroids, it's more like we've hollowed out Phobos (27km long, 10,000 gigatons mass) and somehow sent it on a 5,000 year ellipse into the Oort cloud. Add fusion reactors (or a shitpile of stockpiled thorium and uranium) to taste, because relying on photovoltaic cells at 100 AUs out from the sun is a bit of a non-starter.

In other words: we relax the mass and energy constraints completely when we're trying to argue over whether we can take a decent stab at building an off-world biosphere that won't starve or kill its inhabitants within a generation.

(And even then, as noted: it's hard.)

119:

You get cheap chicken (I'm using the base level of 'acceptable' protein here) because the costs don't matter at this point. None, and I mean none of these are based upon solar tech. It's all oil - which takes about a billion years to get ready.

As I believe a US Air Force General remarked, "if you strap sufficiently powerful engines to a brick, you can make it fly".

For example. (If you're bored, forward to 2m34s - 2m40s for the money shot.)

120:

More to the point, the U.S. is by far the biggest market for English-language literature, including the novels of OGH. If Americans reading a story think "What was that about?", it's not good for business.

Well, the fact that Equoid was sold/published in a advance of year when the worldcon would be held in the UK with a much higher proportion than normal of British culturally aware Hugo voters is not a coincidence. Neither was the decision to put it out through an outlet that was optimized for eyeball count over revenue -- I could have made more money elsewhere. (In case there are any Puppies reading this, it's called "writing for your audience" and yes, this is the ethical way to maximize your chance of winning a Hugo: give the voters what they like!)

121:

Oh god oh god oh god ...

"Protector" dates from the period before the Brain Eater got Niven completely, but it's still full of so much biology fail that it qualifies, at best, as fantasy these days.

(Compare with "A World Out of Time", where the brain eater hadn't quiet settled down to dine on the author's cerebral cortex, but virtually every SFnal idea in the entire hard SF novel is ludicrously obsolete/busted today.)

122:

Footnote: the Brain Eater gets lots of successful male SF authors in their late 40s/early 50s. I am aware of this, and looking over my shoulder regularly. (And yes, spending a few years writing urban fantasy -- mostly Laundry Files -- and recharging my futurist batteries is, I hope, part of the process of avoiding it rather than an actual symptom of the disease.)

123:

"More to the point, the U.S. is by far the biggest market for English-language literature, including the novels of OGH. If Americans reading a story think "What was that about?", it's not good for business."

This reads less like a sensible argument, and more like the complaint one often gets from some USians (a very small minority, but a vocal one) who are horrified to find that someone in the world is making something that is not specifically for them. It presumes a lot of things, all of them false:

That "the biggest market" is always the one to go for. If group A makes up 80% of the market, and group B makes up the other 20%, but fifteen people are trying to sell to group A, but no-one is selling to group B, then going for group B will get you *more* sales.

It also presumes that USians are completely incapable of reading a book where they don't get every reference. The success of people like the Monty Python team or Douglas Adams in the US would tend to comprehensively disprove that (my USian wife assumed that "Basingstoke" was a made-up joke name when she first read Hitch-Hikers, but she still loved the books).

It also presumes that "getting the references" is what reading is about. As a British person I probably got more of Equoid than the average USian, but I've never read Cold Comfort Farm (I know, an unconscionable omission). I still enjoyed the story. "Getting" all the references in the Laundry books would require one to have a good working knowledge of British spy fiction, of the geography of London, of British civil service hierarchy, of Lovecraftian fiction, of late-90s tech culture, and a million other things... in other words, it would require one to *actually be Charles Stross*. The same is true, in fact, of *all* books -- *all* books contain thousands of references to other bits of culture, because that's how writing works.

Fundamentally, if I as a British person have no problem reading a book in which the hero watches a baseball game while eating a twinkie before catching a yellow cab back to his condo, a USian reader can read Equoid without much difficulty.

124:

It doesn't just get SF authors, but pretty well anyone who has
established themselves as successes in a niche, and is a classic
failure mode of professors, captains of industry etc.

125:

Even factory farmed chickens are much more efficient than beef production, and were before the advent of genetic engineering, but if one is willing to raise them on a smaller scale they're very good at recycling kitchen waste, unwary insects and whatever into protein.

126:

Actually, you're mistaken. It's less true than it used to be,
because of the dumbing down of the UK but, to a great extent, the
cispondian familiarity set includes the transpondian one as a
subset. For example, the vocabulary of an educated person used to
be four times larger over here, on average. In general, anyone who
can read anything from Shakespeare on will get seriously foxed by
only a few extreme transpondian variants (e.g. Ebonics and the one
related to New York Yiddish), but few transpondians can understand
them, either! The converse is not true.

And note that a hell of a lot of our linguistic and cultural
familiarity set derives from outside the UK (obviously including
the USA), with Australian being surprisingly prominent. Much of
that has never crossed the pond.

127:

Which I think is the wrong direction for the people actually doing
it, despite the way that it seems to attract those in charge of the
money. I think that they should try to get stability of relatively
simple, fast timescale systems, and push the complexity up. Much
like J Thomas's proposal, but directed research. Unfortunately, it
has damn-all wow factor and is more-or-less irrelevant for science
fiction.

128:

Cool. So I'm a transponder? Love it!

Gotta feel sorry for those Aussies, though. Seems like you Cispondians think they're still on Your People, despite what that crazy continent and such close proximity to Asia's been teaching them about how the world works.

Speaking of which, if I ever get a bigger house in Southern Droughtistan where I currently live, I devoutly hope I can get an Aussie-built graywater system. As I said, they've been evolving their own way too, and those droughts and fires have been teaching them a few things.

And then there's the Kiwis, who are discussing replacing their flag with a kiwi farting rainbows, or some such.

129:

Speaking of botany, I'm cancelling work today because this is happening a mile away from my front door and I'm off to smell the stinkblossom.

130:

See the early Larry Niven "Protector".
Where the "Caretaker" ( & his her many-generations sucessors ) lives on the moon (of wherever)& watches the seeded planet.

Finally worked out what was bothering me with this comment.
The Caretakers for planets seeded with food yeast are Slavers, not Pak. "World of Ptaavs" rather than "Protector".

131:

The dialect is Sheddi, in case you are interested.

Actually, it's more the Aussies think that we are the relics that
they left behind, and some are not shy about saying so :-)

132:

On that matter, is there any chance of a plant-like invader in the
Laundryverse?

133:

I look forward to a 16 page rant of the effects of Conservative Austerity policies on multiverse defence preparednes in one of the Laundry books, with only Scotland surviving because it's run by the Socialist SNP...

134:

It also presumes that "getting the references" is what reading is about. As a British person I probably got more of Equoid than the average USian, but I've never read Cold Comfort Farm (I know, an unconscionable omission). I still enjoyed the story. "Getting" all the references in the Laundry books would require one to have a good working knowledge of British spy fiction, of the geography of London, of British civil service hierarchy, of Lovecraftian fiction, of late-90s tech culture, and a million other things... in other words, it would require one to *actually be Charles Stross*. The same is true, in fact, of *all* books -- *all* books contain thousands of references to other bits of culture, because that's how writing works.

I agree wholeheartedly!

As a non-native English speaker, I probably miss many references, both implicit and explicit, in the books I read. I still enjoy non-Finnish books. Also, good translations help. I have tried to read Lord of the Rings in English, but just can't because the translation is so good.

One strange book (or rather books) were Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief books. They were quite deeply in the English Science Fiction territory, but I think I still got more out of the Finnish references than most readers. Still there probably were a lot of things I did miss, not having been in Britain for long.

Also, my daughter first read the Harry Potter books when she was six years old. We had to explain a few things to her at the start, like what is a boarding school (not many of those here at elementary school level), but after that she read them and seemed to understand a lot of it.

Of course the books (and other media) we read has a effect on us - I think Monty Python's Flying Circus, Douglas Adams and Blackadder have taught me a lot about the British culture. (Also, that link to constable Savage in the discussion: I laughed at that one a lot a couple of months ago while watching the series compilation.) This goes both ways, which is not all good: I have this idea of writing songs in Finnish, and I realized I know more about writing lyrics in English than in Finnish, starting with theory of poetry. This means a trip to the library, of course, but it still made me feel a bit sad about my native language.

135:

My biology/ecology is from the 70's, supplemented by undirected readings. What's are some good primers for this stuff? I've got no problem with the math, so it doesn't have to be at the pop exposition level.

136:

This is starting to sound like price signalling in capitalism: how do we tote up the true costs and benefits of a relationship -- biological or otherwise -- before we deem it parasitic? How much does gas at the pump really cost?

137:

I've read all the Laundry series (that I'm aware of), and I like it, even if sometimes I run into an acronym like COBRA and think "that's probably neither the snake nor the G.I. Joe villain".

If Charlie wants to cater mainly to the British market, that's his call. My impression was that he wanted to maximize total sales, and my comments were intended to be constructive feedback.

138:

You've mentioned using Scrivener; how much does it help keeping track of Laundry history? Or is the obvious explanation the true one: that your adoption of the tool didn't happen until well into the series?

139:

Prominent countries are a bit like famous people: they get a level of attention that they can't possibly reciprocate.

140:

Hundreds of little ecosystems? Try millions or billions as a lower bound. It is the nature of combinatorics that size of your solution space increases very quickly; in fact, faster than exponentially: for any a, a^n for sufficiently large n.

141:

2. Magical parasites developed at one point, but they were wiped out. Maybe it was the Deep Ones, or the pre-Cambrian civilizations, or some sort of catastrophe, but something destroyed all of the magical parasites native to Earth.


Hmmm . . . at one point, before galactic rotation took Earth out of the cone of magic emanating from the galactic core, the parasites were true symbionts, feeding off their hosts but granting them the senses to 'see' the magic -- the prerequisite to the control of magic. Successful practitioners were also successful breeders. Who doesn't love a powerful magician? After the magic went away the symbionts devolved to parasite status, fatally weakening their hosts and dooming themselves to extinction the way too-successful parasites so often tend to do.

142:

Er, let me try again:

Hundreds of little ecosystems? Try millions or billions as a lower bound. It is the nature of combinatorics that the size of your solution space increases very quickly as you increase the number of elemental constituents in it. In fact, the rate of increase is larger than exponential: for any a, a^n < n! for sufficiently large n.

Now ask yourself how long it would take to find even one solution. How many of these searches do you think can feasibly run in parallel, and how long will an individual run take before you can reasonably claim that a solution has been found?

143:

She almost certainly did better than someone who DID get the
references. Hogwarts is a ghastly pastiche of 'tween wars girls'
school stories (which are pretty yuckworthy in themselves), and
imaginary academia (a strangely recurrent meme), put together with
no real understanding of either. I could go on ....

144:

The dialect is Sheddi
Checks for unoccupied bags of Blue Circle...

145:

Nor a typing error for CORBA :-)

146:

It [The Brain Eater] doesn't just get SF authors, but pretty well anyone who has established themselves as successes in a niche, and is a classic failure mode of professors, captains of industry etc.

Not to get US-political or anything, but one might adduce as examples Antonin Scalia and George Will. Once reasonably respectable intellectuals, now not so much so.

147:

"If you can spare the energy, thoroughly oxidize any organic material you think of as waste, and use it as fertilizer immediately."

Now here we run into one of the more interesting gotchas of space travel/colonization: waste heat. Vacuum is a really good insulator, and even though our heat sink is at a chilly 2.3 degrees Kelvin, it's hard to dump enough heat into it when you're only radiating around the 300 Kelvin mark.

Yes.

Photosynthesis doesn't work well above about 310 Kelvin, so without some really nifty biological engineering -- equivalent to trying to design Concorde in 1910, if we look at it with today's eyes -- we're not going to be able to run our agricultural side using higher-temperature chemistry.

And yet we probably need to have some very hot things. If we have rocket engines or a nuclear reactor, we will have a lot of waste heat we have to get rid of. We have to find a way to do that.

So we need some great big efficient heat sinks. Light weight and capable of being folded compact if they have to be lifted from sea level.

Similarly, if we need to get a whole lot of power from sunlight then we need great big efficient solar panels.

In action I imagine both of them flat. Both are arranged at right angles to the direction micrometeorites or whatever you call them are most likely to come. Solar panels should be facing the sun, heat sinks should be edge-on to the sun.

Heat sinks should presumably maximize surface area, something like traditional black bodies. Maybe they could be real spiky in a sort of fractal way. We'll need them. I have to assume they can be created or else we can't have much power up there.

Yes, our postulated space colony can have a "hot chemical processes" module, off to one side up some insulated trusses, where everything runs at 500 Kelvin and we can char down surplus lignin.

Lignin is needed so that plants can compete with each other to reach the sunlight. If we don't need our farmed plants to do that, then we don't need to produce lignin and then burn it afterward. But we need to get rid of lots of stuff, and if we depend on biodegradation then that's more stuff to go wrong.

If we have lots of power and we can adequately get rid of waste heat, then we can bypass decomposers as an essential part of the system, and avoid an important failure mode.

When we have something that works adequately, then we can play with optional low-temperature decomposers also. Grow mushrooms or something, get some food out of that part. If it's unreliable then use it while it works and oxidise it away when it stops working, and look for ways to improve the reliability of that part too.

But Boltzmann's gonna get you eventually and while we may have simplified/reduced the "farm" side of the system we've increased the complexity of the "factory" side.

Yes. Simplify the part we don't understand, and complicate the part we do understand. It looks to me like a good trade-off.

148:

Interesting discussion ... my two cents' ...

The build-an-ecosystem-from-scratch-in-space scenario would first require that we had a census of life on and in our planet, including information as to which bits go with which bits. (Sorta like a 4-D jigsaw puzzle.) Starting with water ... how much of 'ocean water' is actually water (H20), and how much is living versus non-living stuff. And how does this vary by depth, place (longitude/latitude), and so on. To get more popular support for such an approach, maybe the first thing we should do is rephrase '70% of the Earth's surface is covered by water' to 'only a% of the Earth is water (lakes, oceans, rivers) but all of x% of the Earth's biome lives in a water environment'. What this means for build-an-ecosystem-in-space: we wouldn't need as large an ice comet when terraforming, but we'd need an inventory of a million plus different organisms.


149:

Hundreds of little ecosystems? Try millions or billions as a lower bound. It is the nature of combinatorics that the size of your solution space increases very quickly as you increase the number of elemental constituents in it. In fact, the rate of increase is larger than exponential: for any a, a^n

To get a farm, start with one species of algae and select your astronauts (or whoever) from the pool of people who can eat it and not get sick. Grow it in pure culture, in hundreds of containers. Discard the contents of any container that gets contaminated in important ways.

Why only hundreds of containers? Add as many as your automated tending system can handle. Thousands, tens of thousands. Millions? A small matter of engineering. You can probably get by with hundreds.

Don't try to make ecosystems that will stabilize themselves. Keep the ones that work while they work, and discard each individual culture when you see it isn't working well.

Now ask yourself how long it would take to find even one solution. How many of these searches do you think can feasibly run in parallel, and how long will an individual run take before you can reasonably claim that a solution has been found?

Run as many in parallel as you can manage. If each of them doubles its biomass in one day, then it should take two days to replace one that fails, but maybe twenty days to replace one from scratch by a small inoculation from a library culture. So every now and then start a new library culture so you'll have a recent library version growing, in case something looks good and you replace lots of others from it, and then they all go bad at once.

If half of them go bad in a day, you can't harvest any of them to eat that day. If on average more than half of them go bad each day then they aren't even self-sustaining. If on average they last 10 days each then you should do fine. But grow 3 or 4 times as much as you need and recycle the surplus, in case some unexpected event causes more than half of them to fail once.

You can do fine with failures that fail and can be sterilized and replaced. It's harder to handle failures that spread. So keep as many small farms as you can manage, entirely isolated from each other. Don't let failures spread.

150:

Heat radiates as the 4th power of temperature IIRC. So use excess energy to pump heat out of the bio-area to much higher temp radiators. If you radiate at 900K you can get rid of 81x as much heat as 300K

151:

When I was in grad school, one of the Serious Departmental Bigwigs had a sideline publishing poetry. I hear it was awful, but nobody wanted to say so. It's amazing what happens to a person if they hear nothing but flattery for about 20 years.

152:

Actually, back as a grad student, I was (we think) the first person to photograph one of those things with an infra-red camera. It gets up to body temperature when it's "going off." Unfortunately, maximum ripeness hits in the evening, so you're unlikely to get the full experience. The botany department I got my degree in had two of those plants, and they both bloomed while I was there. It's an experience, and definitely worthwhile.

One of the best times to see it is when it's still growing, because it grows so fast you can actually see it grow, twitch by twitch. That central stalk is fairly hollow (sort of a cross between a loofah and a watermelon), and it's all quite fragile.

And of course, everyone likes the name: Amorphophallus titanum. Can't go wrong with a name like that. I still think it's a dead elephant mimic, but no one believes me.

153:

I'd recommend John Thompson's Relentless Evolution.

154:

Obviously the Elder Gods are 'pantsers' (or 'gardeners' if we want to say it nicely).

The discussion about sterilizing failed ecosystem experiments is making me feel a bit uneasy. I'm not sure exactly why...

155:

Oops,as the saying goes.
I was aware Niven had gone ... & that he was always strongly environmentally "aware" but not that he'd lost it totally.
Hint: although on my shelves, I haven't re-read it for over 15 years .....

156:

PRESBYTERIAN SNP, please!
( MUCH nastier )

157:

AND
To come back on subject
(Shock horror!)
I was walking back from the plot toady, hot, dishevelled etc ... & passed a young ( 22-25? ) lady & I "noticed" her T-shirt - which said:
"Most girls want a pony, I want a unicorn"

Err ... I turned round 7 asked her: "Excuse me - have t=you read "EQUOID?"
She looked startled & shook her head...
Me:" Read it - it's a book by Charleie/s Stross, about REALLY NASTY unicorns!"

No, you can't make this stuff up, it just happens ...

158:

Heat radiates as the 4th power of temperature IIRC. So use excess energy to pump heat out of the bio-area to much higher temp radiators. If you radiate at 900K you can get rid of 81x as much heat as 300K

Something about that bothers me. If you're going to radiate at 900K then don't you need to keep a bunch of stuff significantly hotter than 900K? That's getting on up there....

Structural steel starts losing strength around 700K? You're talking about some sophisticated engineering.

The impression I have is that when you give engineers a problem like that then the answer is:

1. Yes, that can be done. Or
2. Ouch! That will cost you. Or
3. Hmm. Let me think about that.

Tell an ecologist about something you want to do and often he can say "Don't do that, here's why it will have bad results." Tell him a result you want to get and ask him how to design a system to do it, and the answer will usually be

1. Nobody knows how to do that. Or
2. Interesting. I know about some research which relates to that. With a research grant and 3 years I may be able to answer several of the questions you would need to know about before you started something like that.

This is not a slam against anybody. Just, ecology is not engineering yet and it may never be.

159:

There's a lot of things stronger than structural steel, and more suitable for withstanding high temps. Alumina for instance, properly built up. Or various other oxygen containing minerals, with copper or something running through them to conduct the heat. It'll need a bit of work, but I think a prototype rocks to the stars approach will be fine...

160:

900 K is only 627 C, so steel should be OK. Glowing slightly red, but OK.

Not that there aren't a bunch of other problems. For starters, sooner or later the refrigerator will break and heat from the sink will leak back to the habitat, killing everything.

161:

Och, that one's simple - give it an emergency tether and drop it behind the main ship...

162:

900 K is only 627 C, so steel should be OK. Glowing slightly red, but OK.

Yes, but that's your heat sink glowing slightly red. We also need to consider the hot thing that's pouring heat into the heat sink.

Not that there aren't a bunch of other problems. For starters, sooner or later the refrigerator will break and heat from the sink will leak back to the habitat, killing everything.

Yes. Even if you can keep your power source separate from the habitat, and have a large colder heat sink to carry off the habitat waste heat, when your power source fails you have lots of problems. Algae providing you with breathing oxygen may be one of the slower problems to show up.


I'm not sure the biological approach to failure works as well for this. It makes a certain sense to have four backup nuclear reactors in case the one you depend on fails. But it makes a certain sense not to, also.

163:

And then you don't have a heat sink. Problem not solved.

164:

Of course. Nobody said interstellar flight was easy.

165:

Heat sinks should presumably maximize surface area, something like traditional black bodies. Maybe they could be real spiky in a sort of fractal way. We'll need them. I have to assume they can be created or else we can't have much power up there.

You do realize that this is a big problem that a lot of money and ingenuity has gone into solving, right? With at best mixed results -- where's that arenak when you really need it? There's a reason why high-impulse non-thermal propulsion schemes have such crappy thrust profiles, which is something I had thought you were really into.

Yes. Simplify the part we don't understand, and complicate the part we do understand. It looks to me like a good trade-off.

That part . . . I actually agree with.

166:

To get a farm, start with one species of algae and select your astronauts (or whoever) from the pool of people who can eat it and not get sick. Grow it in pure culture, in hundreds of containers. Discard the contents of any container that gets contaminated in important ways.

I think you're going to have to look . . . a long time to find these hardy fellows. Just how many multicellur species can survive on a diet of just one plant? Very, very few, I would wager. What you're really asking for is a stable ecosystem composed of just two species. Again, I don't think anything like this exists in nature. I'd WAG that the lower bound is several hundred species, from microscopic prokaryotes to organisms that mass a gram or more and composed of billions to trillions of highly specialized eurkaryotes.

Why only hundreds of containers? Add as many as your automated tending system can handle. Thousands, tens of thousands. Millions? A small matter of engineering. You can probably get by with hundreds.

Really? assume you need, say 50 different kinds of organisms to form a stable ecosystem (probably much, much higher than that), and you've got, say 1000 species to choose from. How many combinations are there? Millions? Billions? No, just a leetle higher than that: something on the order of 10^85 combinations. Even going with just 10 different species chosen from 100 possibilities gives you on the order of 10^13 combinations to try out. And this is at the low end. I chose the numbers 50 from 1000 because anything much larger breaks my calculator. These are outsandingly hard problems to solve if you don't have a thoroughly worked out set of first principles to work from. And I am given to understand that we don't.

167:

Dammit, what's up with my fingers today? Let me try that again:

You do realize that this is a big problem that a lot of money and ingenuity has gone into solving, right? With at best mixed results -- where's that arenak when you really need it yaddah yaddah . . .

168:

Given the contingent nature of life and evolution, it's not surprising that creating a stable ecosystem from the ground up all at once is a very complex task. Here's where I'll stump for my favorite video speculation on abiogenesis and the origin of life. Just speculation and probably quite dated, even if it was taken seriously at some point. But it does give a sense of the size of the problem people like J Thomas dismiss as 'tough but doable', that phrase doing some extremely heavy lifting.

169:

> arenak

...or dagal, or inoson, or "10-point steel", or monomolecular wire, or scrith, or mithril, or...

"Oh, for something really *rigid* to build with!" - Dick Seaton, in "Skylark of Valeron"

170:

The idea I failed to get across was this: It's really hard to do a closed bottle garde, becaue, aus Heteromeles has since pointed out, you have lots of biosphere and little nutriens, and little sinks for nutrients. But what if our 'closed' garden has a direction it can push and pull nutrients from, that's not one of the traditional three? What if something from there wants to take a look?

171:

One strange book (or rather books) were Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief books. They were quite deeply in the English Science Fiction territory, but I think I still got more out of the Finnish references than most readers.

Hannu writes his fiction in English, deliberately so. However, the Finnish translation of TQF should be very good -- it's his native language and he worked closely with the translator to ensure no localisms were mistranslated.

172:

I was unaware that "G. I. Joe" was American for "Action Man" until relatively recently, and I'm still unclear on what COBRA is in that franchise: to me, it's an acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room "A".

173:

Obvious explanation is correct. I still use it on a book-by-book project basis, although I'm thinking about turning all the series into one monster Scriv project -- however, experience with the Merchant Princes suggests that this might not be as useful as it sounds at first.

174:

@20,@77:

What if belief in a sufficiently coherent religious system is the beneficial or less harmful mind-parasite, regardless of its truth or falsity? I'm no fan of (e.g.) Catholicism, but its survival statistics are better than {Heaven's Gate}ianity.... One thinks of how syphilis originally tore through populations until the sub-species that would go dormant for decades (the orginal 'sleeper cells') ended-up dominating.

Also note Our Host's (hmmm, if he's the host, what does that make us?) story "Antibodies".

175:

Exactly my point. A lot of those sorts of references don't mean anything over here (and vice versa, naturally). Sometimes this changes the effect of a sentence from "Wow! The Artist's Rifles!" to "What do painters have to do with anything?".

176:

"To get a farm, start with one species of algae and select your astronauts (or whoever) from the pool of people who can eat it and not get sick."

I think you're going to have to look . . . a long time to find these hardy fellows. Just how many multicellur species can survive on a diet of just one plant? Very, very few, I would wager.

If it's an issue, create GM algae that produce the vitamins you need. There's the problem that when they make stuff they don't need themselves, then they grow faster when they mutate to stop making it. You have to keep reseeding your farms from library stock.

If the mission is short enough, take enough multi-vitamin doses to last.

What you're really asking for is a stable ecosystem composed of just two species. Again, I don't think anything like this exists in nature.

We don't need no *steenking* stable ecosystems!

My crew is not going to multiply until we eat all the algae and starve. I will regulate their birthrate. ;-) We don't need a complex ecosystem that self-regulates indefinitely. I regulate my farms some. No one farm has to last indefinitely because I can and will reseed it from one that is currently doing well, or from library stock.

All I need is a few hundred farms that provide enough food and oxygen long enough to complete the mission.

assume you need, say 50 different kinds of organisms to form a stable ecosystem (probably much, much higher than that), and you've got, say 1000 species to choose from. How many combinations are there? Millions? Billions? No, just a leetle higher than that: something on the order of 10^85 combinations. Even going with just 10 different species chosen from 100 possibilities gives you on the order of 10^13 combinations to try out.

I don't need a stable ecosystem. I don't need to try out lots of combinations to find a stable combination that recycles everything. It's a good thing I don't need that, since I don't know how to do it.

These are outsandingly hard problems to solve if you don't have a thoroughly worked out set of first principles to work from.

Yes. So I need a way to survive without solving those problems. Instead I use the simplest system I can get by with, and I have lots of backups that aren't treated quite the same so I can hope they won't all fail at the same time. I keep restarting the ones that do fail. I replace as much of it as I can -- including all the decomposers -- with engineering that the engineers understand how to do.

It can still fail.

1. Maybe some of my algae change and start making a poison I can't taste or otherwise detect. The crew gets sick and nobody knows why. I hope it happens on a test run at home and not when we have no backup.

2. Maybe some of my algae stops making an important vitamin. The crew develops a vitamin deficiency and maybe nobody recognizes the symptoms.

3. Maybe something I don't understand goes wrong and all the farms die at once. It takes time to restart them from library stock and nobody eats until they're ready. The air might get stuffy too.

4. Maybe something really bad happens, like a virus that defeats my sterile technique. It infects all the algae, and then it infects the replacements and the second replacements. We might all die. Maybe we'll get an algae that's resistant to the virus. Maybe we then get a virus that gets past the resistance. New forms of resistance. Multiply resistant algae gets increasingly different from the original stocks and might get less nutritious. I might survive until rescue, but I'll be thin and nervous.

5. Maybe a crewman gets sick of eating the same thing at every single meal, and goes crazy. He collects dead algae and water and yeast and tries to make beer. He forms algae into pancakes and tries to cook them on a heating duct. He ferments algae with various bacteria and fungi (perhaps cultured from his own skin) hoping for a taste treat. He breaks into sick bay and drinks the blood plasma and the frozen blood. He tries to collect hair and nail clippings and various body fluids including blood from his fellow crewmates, hoping to somehow cook them into another taste treat. Some of these activities are more disruptive than others.

6. The farms are mostly closed systems, but hair clippings and dead skin and floor sweepings and shit get burned and sent to the farms. So the crew might get heavy metal poisoning almost as fast as they would if they licked all the machinery.

But I don't need a stable closed ecosystem. All I need is a way to recycle food and oxygen long enough to complete the mission. Old time sailors used to get scurvy. If they got to land and spent a week among green plants before it got bad, the symptoms went away and they were fine again for awhile.

If we complete the mission and get home safely, the food might improve before the next mission.

177:

There are four periods of life on this planet (or the version in the Laundry Files) that are relevant to the discussion of interlopers from the Dungeon DImensions:

1) Pre-Cthonian. Before DEEP SEVEN evolved, there were no beings on Earth capable of doing higher math. Therefore there would have been very slim pickings for any infovore or similar who leaked onto our plane from the Platonic realms. Even when the stars were right and the stromatolites or trilobites got a temporary boost to their chemical or neurological computation, chances are the period would not have lasted long enough to have much of an effect, beyond a few lucky opportunistic info-microbes who happen to be small and quick enough to take advantage. (Who knows how long these periods last, though?)

2) Cthonian. DEEP SEVEN evolves, and build their civilizations in the depths of the planet. They develop their science and mathematics enough to be able to fight the BLUE HADES invaders to a standstill, without having easy access to magic that being in the right bit of space provides. They may have experience with other encounters with other dimensions, in which case their continued survival is a positive sign, but no more than that since they don't seem willing to share with us vacuum-dwellers. If they haven't experienced the collision of branes (or whatever the stars being right represents) before, maybe they know enough to have some useful plans, but again they aren't sharing.

3) Abyssal. BLUE HADES arrives. Whether from outer space or via wormhole from another ocean similar to ours, they colonise the Earth's deeps, and do whatever colonising lords of the abyss do. It's possible that they arrived during a period of high magic on Earth, left their original ocean during a high-magic period there, or they just brute-forced their way here by water-filled colony ships (with failing ecologies!) or wormholes created by mass-sacrifice.

The BH colonists must have been deeply shocked to discover that the Earth was already inhabited, and apparently waged a misguided war on DEEP SEVEN before realising that D7 doesn't really care about what goes on on the surface of their planet. (Possibly, BH tell themselves that D7 started it, but they fought the Cthonians to a standstill with their superior technology.)

With their obvious experience in magic, it seems clear to this commenter that they must have been aware that Earth was about to pass through the thin space that would give their science and technology a mighty boost, and planned to survive it, if not take advantage of it.

4) Human. H. sapiens evolves, has a precocious bit of history, then starts an explosive growth in numbers and technology just before the stars come right, and possibly just before we've discovered enough to have a hope of surviving CASE NIGHTMARE ROYGBIV. What an unfortunate coincidence. Anyway, this eon's encounter with the outer dimensions is sure to be a doozy. Too bad that the lesson of Lovecraft's Mythos is that not only does the universe not care about macrocephalic apes, not even other sentient species care about us.

Anyway, to get back to the subject (no, the other one), if there's an ecology of infovores, ones that can access our world in times of thin magic have to be lucky to find a way here, and specialised enough to survive on the thin computational resources available before high population and computing engines. It's likely that the ghosts, goblins and will'o'wisps that could get by in medieval times might find that the ecological competition's too stiff during CASE NIGHTMARE WHATEVER, when the big and inefficient but fast critters come to feed. Never mind the complications of trying to get by on a world curated by not one, but two, high-technology species. (No, we don't count. Weren't you paying attention?)

178:

On the subject of tools to keep track of Laundry Files lore, I suggested a semi-public wiki at one point to our host, but it didn't get beyond the idea stage because of the pressure of other work on Charlie's side and depression on mine.

A few hundred fans willing to put up an article each on any given piece of trivia, a few score who'd put up more than one, and a handful of dedicated fans to put up a lot and devote some time to patrol-edit and deal with other administrivia, and I think it might be a useful tool, for author and fans alike. I'm sure the regular commenters here could be counted on each to provide at least a little support.

179:

You forgot the pre-Cambrian alien civilizations. There were intelligent entities on Earth before the Chthonians. On the other hand, given that they're described in The Fuller Memorandum as being one step below the Great Old Ones, it's likely that they would have been able to destroy any parasites worth noticing.

It's interesting to note how humans created civilization, etc. right before the stars went right. Probably some sort of interaction between the two. The stars would take a long time to get right, with the barriers beginning to thin out very slowly for tens of thousands of years (which is very short on an astronomical timescale, of course), but accelerating until the world is going to go from "mostly normal, with occasional incursions" to "everyone gets eaten" in a few years. In the initial stages of the stars going right, the development of intelligence would be accelerated, because there's almost certainly at least one sort of parasite/symbiote that enhances the intelligence of its host and feeds off of the resulting computations. Then humanity gets enough computation up and running that it attracts the attention of the big guys.

180:

It looks like there's a wiki here, though it's a bit thin at the moment (only 80-odd pages).

181:

> You forgot the pre-Cambrian alien civilizations.

I did. Where are they referred to? I only have a paper edition, so can't search it easily. (I'd only end up reading it, and I'm behind on my Hugo reading as it is.)

182:

I think it's in the intro, or somewhere near the beginning. There's some point where he explains the hierarchy of eldritch whatever, which goes humans

183:

It looks like html ate the rest of my comment. Luckily, I managed to get it back. Here it is:

I think it's in the intro, or somewhere near the beginning. There's some point where he explains the hierarchy of eldritch whatever, which goes humans - DEEP SEVEN and BLUE HADES - pre-Cambrians - dead gods. I'm mentally kicking myself right now, because I could have picked it up at the library earlier today, but I had already read it and I figured I should get mostly things that I haven't already read. Oh well.

184:

Also worth point out to the americans Charlie that it's the room they use to bring together all the ministers/HoD for the government entities involved in particular emergencies - in the belief that they will somehow direct things in the Gold>Silver>Bronze operational command hierarchy so beloved of government entities.

Practical reality seems to be in fast moving events, they are behind the curve of decisions being made (for obvious reasons).

Instead, think of it more as a room for apportioning blame and sloping shoulders.

185:

But people didn't design from scratch when they invented yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, beer, etc. They found things that would grow in the conditions they had available, and then they chose a version that was reasonably nontoxic.

People didn't invent these things, they discovered the processes, which is why I tried to hint at looking at fungi as catalysts, although I understand you referenced all foods that use fungi (yeast) processes so kind of got it.

ζύμωσις+ἔργον

ATP. Krebs / TCA cycle.

You'll want this key part:

This process is used by some bacteria to synthesise carbon compounds, sometimes using hydrogen, sulfide, or thiosulfate as electron donors. In this process, it can be seen as an alternative to the fixation of inorganic carbon in the reductive pentose phosphate cycle which occurs in a wide variety of microbes and higher organisms.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_Krebs_cycle

i.e. Black Smokers.

Recent molecular and isotopic data indicate that the epsilon proteobacterial community associated with Alvinella pompejana, which thrives on the sides of the hotter black smoker chimneys at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, may utilize the rTCA cycle for autotrophic growth. Two of the key genes were present and expressed in the episymbiont community, which is dominated by members of the epsilon subdivision of Proteobacteria

http://krebbing.blogspot.co.uk/2006/12/reverse-tricarboxyclic-acid-cycle.html

Abundance of Reverse Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle Genes in Free-Living Microorganisms at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents


Now, if you can't immediately answer why these mechanisms are at work in ecosystems that have never seen citric acid in fruit form (or the light of the sun for photosynthesis), then you should find out why. i.e. why algae when bacteria can do it without photosynthesis?

If you want to reduce your space-men to eating paste, it's easier to use a bacterial culture which are already better at handling higher heat levels and don't require light on a wavelength you'd have to waste energy producing.

Oh, and the growth potential is much higher - algae don't exponentially divide, bacteria do.

~


So far as I know, this slogan's basically a capitalist slogan from the 1920s-30s.

Indeed, and thank-you for putting it into the correct time-frame (although it's WWI but hey, close enough).

As we now know, eukaryotes came about due to a mutualism that became the eukaryotic cell, and basically every eukaryote has mutualistic relationships with bacteria, as well as fungi and other organisms.

380,000,000 years ago, fungi didn't exist.

You've not touched on why fungi are a catalyst (and yes, there's also a Lovecraft / Stross joke in here - something in the wood shed, yarp) and wondered about the next question:

Techne is wildly touted as a catalyst. Ever wondered what the next fungi step would be?


Question (heavily hinted at): dump enough energy (physical or psychic) into an ecology, why not something new?

~

but if one is willing to raise them on a smaller scale they're very good at recycling kitchen waste, unwary insects and whatever into protein.

Yes, of course: their traditional function in a farm ecosystem was to process waste into edible stuff and keep down (non-mammal) pests.

Black Fly farming does the same thing with less problems (toxic chicken-shit for one) and is more sanitary (insect > mammal biology is different enough that salmonella etc isn't an issue).


Americans / West / Japanese are putting their money on cloning. Chinese / S.Africans on insects. I prefer life, so I'd chose to eat the bug meal patties.

~

In other words: we relax the mass and energy constraints completely when we're trying to argue over whether we can take a decent stab at building an off-world biosphere that won't starve or kill its inhabitants within a generation.

That's never the problem.

The problem is always a simple one:

Species evolved in a particular fashion due to environment. You change the environment, you change the species. (Not even limited to the behavioural aspects of Chimps, Stingrays or Ants).

That's why anyone smart / who knows their ecology thinks about Abaption, not adaption.

Which is why RAND and cybernetics failed.


Oh well.

186:

Hmmm. I'd cite David Quammen's Outbreak, since I haven't read much of May and Anderson's seminal work on the mathematics of epidemics. The general thought that I'd learned is that "the first rule of good parasitism is not to kill your host." It turns out this isn't quite true, and May and Anderson were able to show that there are other cases where a parasite or pathogen can routinely kill its hosts and get away with it indefinitely. The trick is that it has to be very contagious. Such exploiters won't necessarily evolve to become less lethal over time. If I understand it at all, there are actually multiple possible courses a parasite/pathogen can take and survive. While the math is fairly simple, it's not that simple. Yes, evolving to become less lethal is a common outcome, but it isn't the only one.

As to whether epidemiological mathematics applies to religions, I kind of doubt it, but it is a fun idea to play around with. It's also worth remembering that religion as we know it in the west isn't an ancient phenomenon. Many cultures have no word for religion, because the practices we call "religion" were embedded in their culture in various ways and places (funeral rites, spiritual practices, shamanic medicine, etc.). It was only after repeated exposure to missionaries and forcible enculturation in the west that their beliefs were organized (sometimes by outsiders) into "their religion," which was then often derided as "primitive" in comparison to Christianity. Some modern tribes have taken to rebranding their "religions" as "their spirituality," just because what they do isn't incompatible with being Christian, but it is so different that they don't think that labeling as religion is proper or useful.

The only reason to go into this much detail is that it's just possible that religion is an epiphenomenon of our current culture. As such, it could go away. I don't think spirituality or spiritual experiences will go away, but organized religion just might go the way of sacrificing to the Genius of the Imperium and similar ancient practices.

187:

The simple problem is that single-species algal cultures are a nightmare to keep uncontaminated, which is one of the problems with algal biofuels. Depending on a single culture is tricky to start, and incredibly risky to continue. If a human gut bacterium can grow in that culture, you might lose the whole thing. I'd also point out that there isn't (to my knowledge) a single algal species that provides anything close to perfect nutrition for a human being, and there aren't that many that are even considered edible.

While it's possible to raise a human in a bubble without most bacteria if they're lacking an immune system, in general, humans live with and require thousands of bacteria just to stay alive. They are in our gut, skins, genitalia, etc. The newest thinking is that our immune systems aren't there as antibiotics, they're there as police, in the community policing sense of providing an imperfect control system for a very complex ecosystem. It's thought that most mammalian immune systems play this role. As a result, we get superficially bizarre structures like our appendices, which, far from being vestigial, are refugia for our normal gut bacteria in cases, like cholera infections, where our intestines get invaded and the normal inhabitants are purged. The appendix is absolutely loaded with immune system cells, but they aren't there to kill gut bacteria, they're there to keep the right species alive. For all I know, our hairy armpits have the same function.

188:

The newest thinking is that our immune systems aren't there as antibiotics, they're there as police, in the community policing sense of providing an imperfect control system for a very complex ecosystem.

Kinda, but not really:

One way that the most-recently discovered lectin pathway is activated is through mannose-binding lectin protein. MBL binds to carbohydrates (to be specific, D-mannose and L-fucose residues) found on the surfaces of many pathogens.

For example, MBL has been shown to bind to:

yeasts such as Candida albicans[14]
viruses such as HIV[15] and influenza A
many bacteria, including Salmonella and Streptococci
parasites like Leishmania


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannan-binding_lectin


We're back to sugars again (ATP cycle does all three processing).

189:

Ever wondered what the next fungi step would be?
Err ... Piers Anthony's intelligent fungi?

190:

I saw some references to research a long time ago, and the typical
failure was NOT the simplistic ones you are considering. Even the
simplest eukaryotes produce a very complex set of waste products,
and it was the accumulation of some of the minor ones that caused
the experiments to fail, eventually. And, for reasons previously
posted, the 'physical' solution of heating until all complex
molecules break down doesn't work, so one HAS to have enough
complexity to close the system.

191:

Please, NO! Let's have honest crap ....

192:

I believe that you need to keep your immune system well exercised
(seriously). This was seriously heretical until fairly recently,
but the research medics are slowly coming around to the idea,
though the tabloids do their best to confuse the populace. This
is, after all, similar to what you said in response 7 :-)

193:

This process is used by some bacteria to synthesise carbon compounds, sometimes using hydrogen, sulfide, or thiosulfate as electron donors. In this process, it can be seen as an alternative to the fixation of inorganic carbon in the reductive pentose phosphate cycle which occurs in a wide variety of microbes and higher organisms.

I see what you're getting at! Something like that may be possible. It might be more efficient to synthesize hydrogen or hydrogen sulfide as an energy source, than to make light for photosynthesis. You'd need more engineering with moving parts, but the result might be more energy-efficient and have other advantages.

Now, if you can't immediately answer why these mechanisms are at work in ecosystems that have never seen citric acid in fruit form (or the light of the sun for photosynthesis), then you should find out why. i.e. why algae when bacteria can do it without photosynthesis?

?? I don't know why some land plants evolved to put citric acid in fruits. The bacteria came first. I like eucaryotic algae because they're familiar and feel safe. I don't really know what would work better.

If you want to reduce your space-men to eating paste, it's easier to use a bacterial culture which are already better at handling higher heat levels and don't require light on a wavelength you'd have to waste energy producing.

Those are advantages. My first thought is that some people don't do well eating only bacteria, probably because they have more nucleic acids and less of everything else compared to eucaryotes. But it would be possible to break the bacterial cells and remove some of the nucleic acids before eating them.

And I'm not sure it's that good to use a hydrogen-sulfide/sulfuric acid metabolism. I was sort of thinking of each farm being like a little conveyor belt, you put in water and minerals and CO2 at one end, and you take out food and O2 at the other end. I'd rather have traces of CO2 coming out than traces of H2S.

But that's just like back-of-the-envelope thinking before the start of a project. I don't know what would really work best.

Oh, and the growth potential is much higher - algae don't exponentially divide, bacteria do.

Yes, algae can exponentially divide, but some bacteria can do it very fast. Other things equal, the faster the growth the smaller your farms can be and the less time it takes to recover from problems. Growth rate is an important factor when you're looking at trade-offs.

194:

I haven't, either, but I know a bit about the theory. The key is
that it has to be both highly contagious, and not too fast-acting.
But, of course, 'fast-acting' is dependent on the scale and
connectivity of the host population. You get a similar phenomenon
with 'fairy rings', where the fungus dies out behind the ring front,
and you don't actually need sporulation for long-term existence,
though you don't get the actual rings unless you do. Curiously,
the Wikipedia entry doesn't refer to Markov processes, which are
the underlying mathematics.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemic_model

195:

You keep using the word "mission".

A mission is not a colony. Colonization is implicitly open-ended and enduring.

(If we're looking at exploration into trans-Lunar space, about the shortest mission profile for asteroid rendezvous are around 9-18 months, so some of your suggestions are relevant -- ditto a preliminary Mars expedition. But for anything more substantial we're not going to be planning on coming home again; it's cripplingly resource-intensive and compromises the ability of the mission to reach its targets, so a more reasonable approach is something like a one-way trip with enough supplies to see the [childless, non-fertile] explorers out.)

Also, you keep saying "I" will regulate this or that. Again: you don't get to do that for a colony, after the first 20-80 years. Because then you're dead and it's another generation's job to run the show.

(Prognostication about hideous failure modes: postulate a generation ship. There's no economic motivation for building it so we go with option 2, religion. Unfortunately they pick one that includes the Bible. Three generations outbound and there's a religious revival that takes the "be fruitful and multiply" to the ends of the earth seriously -- and to folks born on board the GS, the GS is the earth. Of course, as the wise steward in charge of the GS at launch, you wouldn't let the youngsters run wild -- but nobody's listening to you any more, you're in your dotage, and besides, you're a dangerous backsliding luxury-lover rather than a true believer™.)

This is the human social engineering side of space colonies, and it's even gnarlier in some ways than the environmental side of things, much less the structural engineering.

Final note: if you're having humans in a biosphere with their life support system based on algae, you can forget "sterile". Ain't gonna happen. Your body is carrying around 0.5-2Kg of bacterial/fungal/algal/viral passengers all the time. Without a good chunk of them you can't even digest your food. They mostly live on your skin and in your guts, but your gut effluent is going to end up being recycled into fresh biomass somehow and all it takes is a bit of toilet seat splashback and some of those bugs are going to go walkabout.

196:

That wiki appears to have been set up by feral gamers. Firstly, it's on wikia -- your data checks in but it doesn't check out, thank you kindly for donating. Secondly, the Laundry Files RPG is a little bit non-canon as far as I'm concerned; there are a few things that slipped through the net while I wasn't paying enough attention that aren't aligned with the direction I'm going in. Upshot: I can't really trust a Laundry Files wiki that I'm not editing -- or haven't set editorial policy for (viz. cite the source and make it clear what comes from which story or third-party bolt-on by someone else).

197:

I saw some references to research a long time ago, and the typical failure was NOT the simplistic ones you are considering. Even the simplest eukaryotes produce a very complex set of waste products, and it was the accumulation of some of the minor ones that caused the experiments to fail, eventually.

Yes. In todays Terra that only happens locally, get far enough away and organisms will show up that can metabolize stuff. In small areas (a peat bog, a sequoyah forest etc) there may be not enough oxygen or water, or just too much poison, but it doesn't happen much worldwide.

And, for reasons previously posted, the 'physical' solution of heating until all complex molecules break down doesn't work, so one HAS to have enough complexity to close the system.

Well, but maintaining enough complexity to close the system is unlikely to work and there's no way to fix it. The other approach depends on solving engineering problems, and one advantage of that way is that it's easier to tell whether the problem is fixed or not.

So I see two clear choices. We can proclaim that we know the ecology problems cannot be solved and the engineering problems cannot be solved, and therefore it is impossible.

Or we can try to solve it, putting as much emphasis as we can on solving engineering problems that we mostly understand rather than ecology problems that we mostly don't understand. As we get successes with the simplest cases, we might gradually build our way up to more complicated ones.

I get bored saying it's impossible, so I like to try out the other way. To me it looks like there are difficult problems but no proof they can't be solved adequately.

198:

Also worth point out to the americans Charlie that it's the room they use to bring together all the ministers/HoD for the government entities

That's explicitly described in "The Annihilation Score". Unfortunately the writing-stories-out-of-sequence sometimes means I'm not sure where I've explained/lampshaded stuff for readers in the time-line.

(COBRA meetings happen again in book 7 and, per plans, book 8 because CASE NIGHTMARE RGB, or worse, CASE NIGHTMARE CMYK, have come to the attention of a very thinly disguised portrait of the 2014 Coalition cabinet ... I am trying to decide whether I have the guts, around book 8 or 9, to have ~David Cameron do a reshuffle and appoint ~Michael Gove to head the Ministry of Magic Outsourcing.)

199:

I don't know why some land plants evolved to put citric acid in fruits.

Let me guess here: citric acid is an easily accumulated product of the Krebs cycle (FSVO "easily"). It's an acid, which makes for an unfriendly environment to many parasites. Fruiting bodies are expensive energy stores that provide nutrients to germinating seeds; you don't want them to be eaten by parasites, but if they can tolerate the low-pH environment provided by the acid, that's a win.

The much deeper question of course is where did the Krebs cycle come from, and why run on those particular intermediates?

200:

I get bored saying it's impossible, so I like to try out the other way. To me it looks like there are difficult problems but no proof they can't be solved adequately.

Who is it here that says this is impossible? Please be specific. Because we already have empirical proof that complex, closed-loop ecosystems capable of supporting humans and stable over millennia can be done. In fact, it's pretty much in your face every day. I know, going with the narratives of yesteryear -- the One Man Who Succeeds when they all said it couldn't be done and the like -- is a comfort in the face of extremely difficult problems. But that's simply not going to work here. So name the people who are saying this.

201:

Your problem would be that any realistic modelling of Gove would
lead to a completely implausible scenario - even cynics such as
myself never expected, a few decades back, some of the lunacies he
and others are now getting up to. For example, I am sure that it
would cost the taxpayer nothing, because the organisation it was
outsourced to would have powers to recover its costs from the people
and organisations it 'benefitted'.

202:

As is malic acid, another common constituent of fruits. There
may be an obvious reason those two dominate among the Krebs cycle
acids but, if there is, I don't know it.

203:

You keep using the word "mission".

A mission is not a colony. Colonization is implicitly open-ended and enduring.

Yes. I don't know how to do colonies at all. It might be possible. Possibly things would just work out. I don't know.

If we're looking at exploration into trans-Lunar space, about the shortest mission profile for asteroid rendezvous are around 9-18 months, so some of your suggestions are relevant -- ditto a preliminary Mars expedition.

Thank you, I hope that could be made to work.

But for anything more substantial we're not going to be planning on coming home again;

And then we're screwed. Maybe something will work out that we don't know about yet.

Also, you keep saying "I" will regulate this or that. Again: you don't get to do that for a colony, after the first 20-80 years.

Yes, exactly. If I'm running a farm and my corn gets the blight, I can plow it under or burn it and replant. I can grow something else for a few years. I get to respond, I don't need an ecology that self-regulates away my problem.

Even better when I don't need dirt and can kill everything and start over. And human beings have a doubling time of 15 years or more, I don't have to worry about the ecology self-regulating the human population.

But a colony? Ouch.

Well, we have buildings today that have specialists who handle the HVAC, full-time. Maybe it could be like that. You divide your colony into buildings, and you have somebody who supervises the air for each large building, and his algae or whatever gets sent to the guys who grow food, and outside the buildings you let an ecology grow and hope for the best. If the outside is covered in black mold for a few years with quadrillions of spores, everybody stays indoors except the guys who have to go out in hazmat suits.

Prognostication about hideous failure modes: postulate a generation ship.

Ouch. Sailing-ship sailors used to spend as long as a year mostly onboard. They could put up with it partly because they knew it wasn't their real life. When it got hard you could think about walking ashore with an oar on your shoulder and going until somebody asked you what it was, and spend the rest of your life there. It took a special person to accept spending the rest of his life on the ship.

We're thinking about people being born there at random and they have to be crewmen? Some of them will suicide. You need to regulate the birthrate to replace the suicides. Yuck. You might get a working culture or you might not. We don't know much about building those things with volunteers, much less random people born to volunteers.

if you're having humans in a biosphere with their life support system based on algae, you can forget "sterile". Ain't gonna happen.

We know ways to raise micro-organisms in sterile conditions. It isn't 100% because mistakes happen, but we can replace the mistakes. People have been doing it for over 150 years. For a mission that isn't too long, most of the hands-on work could be automated to further reduce the chance of contamination. But for a long mission we'd have to expect the automated equipment to break down as fast as all the other electronics, motors, etc and so parts of it would have to be done by people. ;-(

I have no idea at all how to solve the big problems, but it looks like some smaller shorter-term problems might be solved in a reasonable time. We could get people supplying their own air and food, sort of, for months or maybe years. They could try to grow soybeans as a hobby. They could play with ecosystems provided they didn't in any way depend on them.

204:

I have no idea at all how to solve the big problems, but it looks like some smaller shorter-term problems might be solved in a reasonable time.

Well, if you insist on a permanent presence, there's always presence by proxy, aka unmanned but intelligent space probes. One take I'm particularly fond of is Hoyle's A for Andromeda, which AFAICT originated the trope of artificial beings able to travel by radio. Cheap, simple, and quick, but the downside is they are utterly dependent on a third party granting them access to previously constructed computational resources when they arrive at their destination.[1]

Eldritch horrors as an interdimensional exploration program abandoned by the other side billions of years ago and whose mutated offspring stalk the world sheafs like so many rogue V'gers because little if any thought was put into properly shutting down these oh-so-clever devices. Shoddy government contracts awarded to inept cronies patently promising more than they can possibly deliver is a universal given, no matter what dimension you happen to live in.

[1]Is this a business model yet? Immortalizing a client by broadcasting their digital footprint to the stars? "For a mere $1,000 we transmit your facebook account to the heavens along with a digital copy of your DNA. Somewhere, some time you will live again!"

205:

Well, we have buildings today that have specialists who handle the HVAC, full-time. Maybe it could be like that.

Who trains the HVAC repair-folks?

Worse: who educates the teachers?

By the time you follow it down the rabbit hole you end up needing a full-scale research university (to tackle unforeseen problems and educate the next generation of professors, who in turn educate the teachers ...) with enough redundancy to survive a sudden plague taking out the only source of expertise in some critical but essential sub-field.

Moreover, humans aren't pure work units. Infants and small children don't thrive in a play-free environment; play is essential both to learning and to stress mitigation. A full-scale colony is going to need recreational facilities, and I don't mean just zero-gee sportsball and a library of books and movies from home: side-effects of social play include fashion and fads, too, and remember, it's not just HVAC repair dudes but the people who design and make their clothes, invent new and hopefully non-biosphere-threatening ways to get off their heads, and run interpretative dance competitions. Strip that stuff away and what you're left with is North Korea in space, and who's going to volunteer for that?

206:

We know ways to raise micro-organisms in sterile conditions.

* Waves hand * -- background in pharmaceutical microbiology here, even if it's somewhat rusty. We know how to culture some micro-organisms (about 1-10% of those that infest us) using nutrients that rely on a civilization-sized supply chain (ever wondered where Agar comes from? Or beef broth?) in small units (petri dishes).

This is Not The Same as being able to arbitrarily mass produce any desired prokaryote in useful quantities, to order.

(Now back to being distracted by the aftermath of today's SpaceX launch failure ... remember, space is haaaard.)

207:

Something like that. I do know they've got a good idea of how photosynthesis and respiration evolved, but it's not something I remember right off.

I'd take a slightly different tack. There's this idea called the Redfield Ratios, which is a set of stoichiometric ratios of the 17-odd elements algae need to live. Plants do something similar. The basic point is that, for perfect growth, you need not just some chemical elements, but you need them in the right ratios (and the right molecular forms, but I'm keeping it simple here) for optimal growth. Having a surplus of some elements can be worse than useless if you're missing the others.

One of the side effects of the Redfield Ratios for land plants is that they generally carry surpluses of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen due to photosynthesis. If they didn't use those surpluses, they'd have to piss them away. This is one reason why wood is such a clever substance: plants use it for structure, it's mostly CHO in some combination (like cellulose or lignin), it provides a lot of support, and it's metabolically inert, so the plant doesn't have to spend much more to keep them around.

Things like citric acid are also CHO compounds, and AFAIK citrate can be fed straight into an organism's Kreb's cycle metabolism, so it's a good, cheap reward, as is the sugar in nectar. It's also acidic, which probably acts as a control against too much consumption. Incidentally, tannins are another one of those plant cheap tricks, in that they're defensive compounds made from CHO.

Some plants do also use compounds based on N and P for rewards and defensive compounds, but they're more expensive to make, since the plant has to expend energy to get the N and P before they spend them.

The Redfield Ratios one reason why closed ecosystems are so hard to run: you've got to basically balance the elemental accounting for 20-odd elements all the time, and make sure you've always got enough energy that the elements can be in the right molecular forms at the right times in sufficient quantity to keep the ecosystem turning over. If you think accounting for money, time, and labor is hard, this is much, much more complicated, especially for a small just-in-time ecosystem. On Earth we can cheat by stockpiling materials that aren't needed at the moment, although humans are running into trouble with that (it's called pollution). In a small system, you don't have that luxury.

208:

Actually, I don't think all of those aspects are as hard as you
imply. London is regarded by most of its inhabitants as adequate
in itself, and is c. 10,000 people per km^2, and the UK is almost
certainly large enough (in population and skills) to be self-
sustaining. My guess is that, if you include only people involved
in critical production, education and research, allowing for
children, under 2% are essential. Entertainment etc. would all
be amateur, and count under recreation, of course. People would
NOT retire, unless incapable, and extreme forms of preventing
physical death in old age would not be used. No, that's not too
brutal - I and others have living wills requesting just that. My
calculation is that is feasible with a reasonable safety margin,
using a Kevlar-based spinning cylinder. Not cheap, of course ....

The problem is how much area is needed for life support, which
brings us back to square one.

209:

@186:
Thanks for epidemiology...the contagiousness of mind-viruses would, I would guess, be partially a matter of media speeds, credulity and skill at mind-hackery also being in play.

As for tribal systems' not being 'religions', I will note that as far as I know there is no word for 'Judaism' in Biblical (and immediately post-) Hebrew,and that very often (not being Orthodox) I feel certain that custom long pre-dated the theology and narratives justifying it.... (E.g.: avoiding having to couple with your brother-in-law by spitting at his shoes.)

210:

The why to wurbling on about Krebs etc:

More strikingly, however, he found that one of the 12 bacterial lines he has maintained has developed into what he believes is a new species, able to use a compound in the solution called citrate—a derivative of citric acid, like that found in some fruit—for food...

After 30,000 generations, researchers noticed something strange. One population had evolved the ability to use a different carbon-based molecule in the solution, called citrate, as a power source.

http://phys.org/news/2014-02-bacteria-freezer-yield-startling-results.html

Full Paper


My mind wanders to how malaria works (Central carbon metabolism of Plasmodium parasites) and how E.Coli has a potential use as a
larvicide. Combining the two might be a bad idea...

(I jest - it's not GMO'ing in anything that e.coli can do in an anoxic environment, but it's certainly where I'd be worried about unforeseen consequences once people are custom making bacteria etc).


As a bonus, you can wander into the ID community and multiple 300+ comment threads (with surprising amounts of science) discussing it:

Now, wild E. coli already has a number of enzymes that normally use citrate and can digest it (it’s not some exotic chemical the bacterium has never seen before). However, the wild bacterium lacks an enzyme called a “citrate permease” which can transport citrate from outside the cell through the cell’s membrane into its interior. So all the bacterium needed to do to use citrate was to find a way to get it into the cell. The rest of the machinery for its metabolism was already there. As Lenski put it, “The only known barrier to aerobic growth on citrate is its inability to transport citrate under oxic conditions.”

http://www.uncommondescent.com/irreducible-complexity/evolution-of-an-irreducibly-complex-system-lenskis-e-coli/

(Note: thar be dragons, I.D. taken very seriously indeed).


Why all of this? Well, it's recent (2014) and it outlines an interesting part of Equoid: these are organic critters, and they eat meat (40 kilos per day), and they can interface with 'minds beyond' (shub shub).

Which rather suggests Life in the Universe is compatible... or that both sides could deploy biochemical weapons if required.

211:

Sorry. One broken link has broken them all. Uff.

212:

"Well, we have buildings today that have specialists who handle the HVAC, full-time. Maybe it could be like that."

Who trains the HVAC repair-folks?

Worse: who educates the teachers?

You need a toolset that the people who are there can maintain.

For a long time the toolset consisted of a fist-axe plus whatever wood and grass tools they had that didn't persist so we don't know about them.

Later it was maybe 20 small stone tools, carried in a grass sheath.

For a colony you'd probably better have a bunch of automated stuff that mostly self-assembles, that you hope will last until the population is big enough to fix it when things start going wrong. I dunno. Maybe you can make a toolset simple enough for a small colony to maintain, and as they grow they get access to more abilities.

About ecologies, I figure we don't know how. But we're not that far from small stuff that human beings can maintain, less than complete systems. So you get a bunch of small systems that you try to keep mostly independent from each other. If one of them fails then the others accept immigrants (I hope) while the closest you have to experts figure out how to get it running again. If wastes build up, you put them in a waste space where you hope things might be able to transform them. Or burn them to something you can use. You try to build ecologies in places nobody depends on, and see what happens. Maybe you'll get an ecology that works for you before the time the colony will die if you can't get one.

This is a lot of overhead, but unless you can do without it then you pay for it or die.

We know how to culture some micro-organisms (about 1-10% of those that infest us) using nutrients that rely on a civilization-sized supply chain (ever wondered where Agar comes from? Or beef broth?) in small units (petri dishes).

We don't need to culture micro-organisms that are hard to grow. Don't do the hard cases, do one of the easy cases.

We have bacteria that can grow given water, various minerals, and an energy source. We have algae that can grow given water, CO2, various minerals, and light. Give them the CO2 and minerals produced by burning their dead bodies plus your shit, and they can grow without agar or beef broth.

Harder if you have to recycle everything. If part of a reactor (farm) is made of glass and you break it, do you have to collect the pieces and mold a new one from them? In the long run closed systems are hard even if you have plenty of energy.

But it can work for awhile. Maybe longer than you'd think.

213:

How about dog poop agar? That's used for some fungi. I still remember the culture media notebook in one prep room. It was ancient, but some of the recipes looked like they were straight out of potions 101. They also demonstrated the versatility of an autoclave. It's something most cooks don't appreciate, even if we do have pressure cookers that can sort of do the same thing.

In any case, agar is turning out to be one of the choke points for culturing, since it's being over-harvested. If anyone wants a get-rich-quick scheme, come up with a really good way to make large amounts cheap agarose out of recyclable ingredients (not another alga), or find a good substitute that has these properties.

As noted above, keeping cultures uncontaminated is hard. One of the standard basic mycology experiments is to expose petri dishes with basic media in various places for a short time, just to get a gauge of how contaminated a normal building is. It's eye opening for the students, and really brings home how hard sterile preparation really is. A couple of times I used a stainless steel hood that could be cleaned by spraying it down with alcohol and lighting it off. Even then, my arm hairs were a major source of contamination, since they carried bacteria and fungi no matter how much I cleaned them.

214:

Which rather suggests Life in the Universe is compatible... or that both sides could deploy biochemical weapons if required.

Well, it seems reasonable to me to suppose that life forms that can survive and exist in our universe need to be made out of the same basic building blocks -- not just the same biochemistry, but the same array of fundamental particles built up into atoms and forming stable molecules, etc. ISTR some recent prognostication that the prevalence of L-rotatory stereoisomers in our biochemistry may be an emergent property of parity violation; so it may be the case that a bunch of very subtle second and third order effects of underlying physics nudge biochemistries towards outcomes we would recognize, even if it's not precisely like ours (e.g. their genetic mechanism might use a different base codons to amino acids mapping from us, or even use other ribonucleides entirely, and their ~ribosomes might look rather different from ours ... but they'd still be an information storage mechanism based on transcription from replicable nucleotide sequences to polypeptides).

215:

After 30,000 generations, researchers noticed something strange. One population had evolved the ability to use a different carbon-based molecule in the solution, called citrate, as a power source.

This is been reported many times before. Grow E coli in a minimal medium with only glucose and salts, using citrate as a pH buffer, and eventually they learn to transport the citrate. Of course, that leaves them without as much citrate as a buffer, but the ones that take the citrate get to use it, and the acidity is a problem for everybody together....

E Coli growing on glucose can grow faster if it excretes acetate instead of run it through the Krebs cycle. But when the glucose is mostly gone, then there's all that acetate lying around waiting to be used. Also butyrate, ethanol, lots of stuff. If something else is there which eats up those waste products better than E coli can, then they have to accept that. But they do better to use it themselves and not provide that niche to something else, given the chance. They have physiological mechanisms set up so that part of the population eats one thing, and another part eats something else. In continuous culture they get all the jobs distributed, they tend toward an unstable equilibrium where the numbers of bacteria eating each thing tends to stay more or less around the amount of their food available in a concentration that lets them grow at the prevailing rate.

Each one builds the enzymes it needs to do its job. Part of that is from the transport proteins. If it already has the transport proteins present, then it collects that food well enough to keep producing the transport proteins. If it doesn't already have them, then it doesn't get enough to tell it to start up.

Other common traits that get selected include starving longer without dying, and sticking to glass surfaces.

Of course E coli evolves, it's spent a very long time surviving in mammalian large intestines, and now we grow it in glass vessels on sugar water. A new environment, why wouldn't it adapt?

216:

And, despite the strident claims of the geocentric fanatics, there
is still no clear evidence that the all of the panspermia theories
are wrong. Unlikely, maybe, but that's not the same.

217:

And, despite the strident claims of the geocentric fanatics, there is still no clear evidence that the all of the panspermia theories are wrong.

Yes. A physicist once told me that physicists had proven that life started somewhere in the southern hemisphere. The reasoning was that D-Ribose would have been preferentially formed there.

I thanked him politely.

218:

We're thinking about people being born there at random and they have to be crewmen? Some of them will suicide. You need to regulate the birthrate to replace the suicides. Yuck. You might get a working culture or you might not. We don't know much about building those things with volunteers, much less random people born to volunteers.

I think that's a mistaken perspective. The idea that you are a "crewman" assumes that you grew up as part of a larger society and then signed up to live and work on board a ship. But this is going to be more like your being a "member of a tribe."

Consider, oh, an Inuit village before contact with European civilization. You lived very far away from everyone else (low population densities in the Arctic). You were part of a small population. You were under remarkably harsh conditions, and you were dependent for survival on some quite sophisticated tools that had to be maintained. You didn't have free choice of jobs; in fact, there were only about three jobs in the entire society—hunter, wife, and angekok—and you would spend your life doing one of them. And yet the Inuit seem to have maintained their numbers, and not to have had catastrophic suicide rates.

Of course, you would need to have recruits from a Westernized society volunteering for such a way of life. (I suppose we could think of sending out Inuit after giving them technical training, but Inuit society has been infected with a lot of European memes!) But that might not be impossible; there are people who volunteer for military service, a way of life that has less personal freedom of choice than I would find comfortable, and even find it rewarding. And they'd have a rather good heroic myth about their having been entrusted with the destiny of humanity to inherit the galaxy. . . .

(Which is not to say that the technical problems could be solved. I'm just talking about this one specific issue.)

219:

This is been reported many times before.

Citation needed? Or do you mean here on this blog?

He started in 1988 and published in 2014 before the oxic part (Ct++) randomly evolved / mutated. E.coli has always been able to process citrate in an anoxic environment.

If it had already happened multiple times, there'd be versions of it in the wild, for sure? I think you skipped over the meaningful part of the paper. i.e. witnessed evolution with reference Time slices on ice.

ISTR some recent prognostication that the prevalence of L-rotatory stereoisomers in our biochemistry may be an emergent property of parity violation; so it may be the case that a bunch of very subtle second and third order effects of underlying physics nudge biochemistries towards outcomes we would recognize, even if it's not precisely like ours

Great stuff. That'll keep me busy for a while. For people without free access, I couldn't locate his actual papers without Open Library access, but you can get a cut down precise here: Talk (PDF).

Here's Barron's 28 page "Intro to chirality at the Nanoscale" - Free sample, legal. (PDF). Section 1.3.3 (which will tickle those needing a numerology fix) for a longer, in depth explanation.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Pop science intro for those not wanting to hit the topic so full on from http://io9.com/5971306/why-do-mirrors-reverse-left-and-right-but-not-top-and-bottom
">io9. (And, honestly, the math in those papers - yep, just going to trust it).

~


Rocket went boom-badda-boom.

220:

One Link To Break Them All?

221:

It’s altogether too easy to miss a reference in a conversation thread like this...BUT...I must have missed it, but...no references to... “Farmer in the Sky “by Robert Anson Heinlein?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmer_in_the_Sky

" The story is set in a future, overcrowded Earth, where food is carefully rationed. Teenager William (Bill) Lermer lives with his widower father, George. George decides to emigrate to the farming colony on Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. After marrying Molly Kenyon, George embarks with Bill and Molly's daughter Peggy on the 'torchship' Mayflower. On the journey, Bill saves his bunkmates from asphyxiation by improvising a patch when a meteor punctures their compartment. During the trip all the children attend class; also, to combat the boredom of the long trip, the Boy Scouts among the passengers form troops.

When they arrive on Ganymede, an unpleasant surprise awaits the newcomers. The group is much larger than the colony can easily absorb and the farms they were promised do not yet exist. In fact, the soil has to be created from scratch by pulverizing boulders and lava flows, and seeding the resulting dust with carefully formulated organic material. While some whine about the injustice of it all, Bill accepts an invitation to live with a prosperous farmer and his family to learn what he needs to know, while his father signs on as an engineer in town. Peggy is unable to adjust to the low pressure atmosphere and has to stay in a bubble in the hospital. When the Lermers are finally reunited on their own homestead, they build their house with a pressurized room for Peggy. "

Modern Astronomy has altered our scientific view of Ganymede.

Also... Ganymede ..

" One day, looking down from his throne on Mount Olympus, Zeus spied Ganymede up in the meadows of Mount Ida, chilling with his friends under the watchful gaze of his aged tutors. Instantly, the King of Heaven flamed with love for the young Trojan’s thighs. Zeus shook himself once and turned into a powerful eagle. Straightaway he swooped down upon the world of men. Casting shafts of lightning every which way, he whipped up a fierce tempest turning day into night. Under cover of the storm the majestic eagle pounced and tenderly seized the boy in his talons. The aged guardians reached out to stop him, the hounds barked madly. Paying them no heed, the god and the boy rose up higher and higher and vanished into the blue."

http://www.gay-art-history.org/gay-history/gay-literature/gay-mythology-folktales/homosexual-greek-mythology/zeus-ganymede-gay/zeus-ganymede-gay.html

And also, “During the trip all the children attend class; also, to combat the boredom of the long trip, the Boy Scouts among the passengers form troops."

Hum, “Starship Troopers “?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starship_Troopers


Just how do the Hypothetical Space Colonists/Space Cadets of Space Colonies Religion tm ward off the perils of uncontrolled heterosexual reproduction as previously mentioned?

Are Lesbian Gay Transsexual and Transgender folk the recruitment norm for the Space Colony?

As a consequence will the current generation of Science Fictional Traditionalists -aka Sad/Rabid Puppies of the Hugo Award nomination slate - Suffer from Head Explosion Syndrome?

AS LEADER here - ALL PRAISE TO CHARLIE!! - Our Gracious Host must have the Answer to these vexed Questions.

In the mean while? At least Heinlein had a go at Ecology and Farming in Space ever such a long time ago.

There’s a lot to be said for sheer grandiloquent Nerve in science fictional SCIENCE and Engineering. All else aside it may just provoke the useful response...that, that just cant WORK!! FOR REASON!! Too Shinny.

" .. When they arrive on Ganymede, an unpleasant surprise awaits the newcomers. The group is much larger than the colony can easily absorb and the farms they were promised do not yet exist. In fact, the soil has to be created from scratch by pulverizing boulders and lava flows, and seeding the resulting dust with carefully formulated organic material. While some whine about the injustice of it all, Bill accepts an invitation to live with a prosperous farmer and his family to learn what he needs to know, while his father signs on as an engineer in town. Peggy is unable to adjust to the low pressure atmosphere and has to stay in a bubble in the hospital. When the Lermers are finally reunited on their own homestead, they build their house with a pressurized room for Peggy...."

The future was so much simpler in the past.

Bloody Scientists spoiling everything with, err ...Science?

222:

Which rather suggests Life in the Universe is compatible... or that both sides could deploy biochemical weapons if required.

In regions of the multiverse with higher dimensionality than the 3+1 we're used to, obviously the geometry of earthlike biomolecules will tend to go all wrong. So Ye Liveliest Awfulnesses might be able to engineer something that would work on us (and evidence from the books suggests that they can), but the converse is probably not true.

223:

"This is been reported many times before."

Citation needed? Or do you mean here on this blog?

I first saw it before 1985. The authors had grown E coli in many continuous cultures, and when mutations arose that outcompeted the originals, they collected one from each culture.

They tested their mutants for various things they imagined might lead to better survival. Resistance to starvation. Increased surface to volume ratio. Citrate transport. Adhesion to glass. Something else I forgot. For each test, a fraction of the mutants were improved. They estimated there were probably 8 major improvements total, considering the fraction they could not explain.

Note that they predicted they might find a citrate transport mutation, so they looked for it. Citrate is not the only buffer used for minimal media and not the cheapest; I suspected that they used it precisely so they could look for mutations utilizing it.

I don't remember the authors' names but Hall and Hartl come to mind.

Here is a review from just past that time, by Hartl and Dykhuizen. Their reference #39 might be the one or might not:

http://www.qub.ac.uk/mlpage/courses/level3/meb/chemostat%20selectionhartl.pdf

Dykhuizen,D.,and D.Hartl 1981 "Evolution of competitive ability in Escherichia coli" Evolution 35:581-594.

I haven't found this paper to confirm it's the right one. I might have a paper copy I might have carted around for 30 years in a disorganized mess, but I'm not going to sort the mess today to look for it.

224:

Right. Other, relatively short-term, examples include scientific
expeditions and some isolated development projects, a few of which
were quite large. The key seems to be that they are all working
for the the good of the project and group, rather than each for
himself. No neo-libertarians need apply!

I think that we have enough evidence to say that it is almost
certainly possible, though we don't know how to ensure stability
in the long term. I don't see the intelligence/skill issue as
being intractable, as both are more taught than innate, but the
management of child rearing would be a major part of the social
engineering.

225:

Re Barron, I am unconvinced that it explained anything, though it
certainly described it. Indeed, I am unconvinced by this whole
circus, because of the old saying in numerical analysis "With seven
parameters, one can fit an elephant." The standard model has
eighteen arbitrary parameters, and that excludes any that are
implicitly introduced by the formulation. The other problem here
is that which of several possible final, consistent states in
stochastic systems actually occurs can often be just a matter of
chance. But it's certainly plausible.

226:

> Strip that stuff away and what you're left with is North Korea in space, and who's going to volunteer for that?

Who volunteered for North Korea as it now is?

> I am trying to decide whether I have the guts, around book 8 or 9, to have ~David Cameron do a reshuffle and appoint ~Michael Gove to head the Ministry of Magic Outsourcing.

Dooo iiiitt! You know you want to.

227:

Dykhuizen,D.,and D.Hartl 1981 "Evolution of competitive ability in Escherichia coli" Evolution 35:581-594.

I can see elements of what you're talking about in papers from 1983 and 1986 (and also learnt that Lenski first published the paper that was subject to the fanfare piece in 2008, which is just odd - http://www.pnas.org/content/105/23/7899.short) but the earliest mention I can see is from 1980 / 2:

Why a Co-substrate is Required for Anaerobic Growth of Escherichia coli on Citrate points to your mention of glucose / byproduct issues, while:


Chromosomal mutation for citrate utilization by Escherichia coli K-12.
by a BG Hall nails how a mutation can change this.

I'm not a biochemist, so at least I got to learn about the history of the field - you were 100% correct, it looks like the issue was 'hot' in the early 1980s.

We did learn you probably have a background in it though, and your probable age, so I shall cut back on the screaming Miss Sutch at you about farming.

228:

As an aside, where fungi can go now.
My thoughts wander to DNA computing, optogenetics, bioluminescence and maybe a little bit of magnetite sprinkled through the system for microwave I/O. All self reproducing and expanding to an arbitrary degree.

229:

Re Barron, I am unconvinced that it explained anything, though it certainly described it.

Cirality is something I'm not unfamiliar with. It's a very interesting concept. But you asked for no intelligent fungi stuff, so...

Are you away of http://fold.it/portal/ ?

It's an online 'game' where crowdsourcing generates solutions in parallel to super-computers crunching it, and a lot of the people doing it are actual scientists. It's not perfect, and it's a bit cludgy, but it certainly points to a better educational tool than the old 2D diagrams of old.

If occulus etc actually work, and with next gen graphics, might be a game changer in teaching these fields. (The old bucky-ball models might be retired).

(Quite proud that on my first few attempts hit the top 10-20%. Take some acid, might hit the 1%.)

230:

Not sure if this is a subtle piss take or a wry observance at the hubris of another poster.

“Cel ce venerează,conferă obiectului venerat putere,o putere reală,nu una imaginară,aceasta este sensul dovezii ontologice,una dintre ideie cele mai ambigue pe care le-a făurit inteligenţa omeenească vreodată. Dar această putere este înfiorătoare. Dorinţele şi ataşamentele noastre creează zeii. Şi în momentul în care te eliberezi de un ataşament,vine un altul şi îi ia locul în chip de consolare. Niciodată nu renunţăm total la o plăcere,nu facem decât să o schimbăm pe o alta.”

Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea

You're missing bits, of course, and I'm reminded of Body Snatchers and the psychological terrors of The Thing. Juggler's Seas and all that.

Behavioral transformations during metamorphosis: remodeling of neural and motor systems

Postembryonic Neuronal Plasticity and its Hormonal Control During Insect Metamorphosis

3D Scan Caterpillar metamorphosis [YouTube: 2:04]

I do suspect most males couldn't deal with the boundary issues though: mucousity / boundaries and fluidity are very much still taboo subjects. (Irigaray is certainly an acquired taste).

Which is the real body horror of Equoid: “You wake up each time: reincarnation, isn’t it? You find yourself fat and sleepy and spawning in a warm, food-rich place. And you remember who you were—who you are. Is that right?”

231:

If we have patience, we can run evolutionary or virtual evolutionary experiments till we get it right. I am assuming that we leave sentient life out of the equation until it is perfected, then adjust hopefully. I also posit values of "patience" that no human civilization is likely to possess or possibly even can attain.

On the other hand, a benevolent AI might develop the requisite capacity. (It might also not be as queasy about some of the ethical problems involved.) It might also be motivated to find a way to get us out of its solar system if we've grown tiresome and it's too nice to just kill us.

On the one hand, we are talking about either really long time scales or God-ish AI; so it would be difficult for us to discuss as a rational science problem. On the other hand, that does not mean it's unrealistic for this to happen. It's been demonstrated that a mindless evolutionary algorithm can do bridge engineering better than "rational" human development can engineer bridges. And this is way more complicated than bridges. (I am aware that a rational intelligence outside the algorithm space set the criteria for what is "success." However, how different are those criteria from the "breed before you die" standard the local universe set our particular evolutionary algorithm.)

It's really interesting to see people who know stuff speculate on this. Still, the bottom line might be that deep space exploration/colonization is either something we simply cannot have or something we will have to obtain in a way that is fairly weird from our current perspective. (This is also why people probably did not like Echopraxia as much as Blind Sight: in the latter rational thought asks us to accept a weird conclusion; in the former it asks whether rational thought itself is going to have to go for evolution's sake. Right or wrong, I found it uncomfortable to go down that rabbit hole and I am guessing most other readers did as well.)

232:

If we have patience, we can run evolutionary or virtual evolutionary experiments till we get it right.

I'm reminded of Bank's Surface Details: "No more Hells".

I'm not sure many people got the real message of Surface Detail, but there we go. [Hint: Zak is more than likely a metaphor for something else].


On the one hand, we are talking about either really long time scales or God-ish AI

Part of the point of the Krebs divergence was to show how Time slices are used.

The point of energy is that it compresses Space/Time - that's the entire lesson of the 20th C in terms of physics (yep, even down to the bombs).


It's been demonstrated that a mindless evolutionary algorithm can do bridge engineering better than "rational" human development can engineer bridges.

Current winner for best and most ergonomic solution to the "traveling salesman" problem?

Slime Mold.

And yes: better than your Cray.

Still, the bottom line might be that deep space exploration/colonization is either something we simply cannot have or something we will have to obtain in a way that is fairly weird from our current perspective.

Bottom line?

It's not going to happen with your current minds. Not a fairy chance of farts in Hell. That's the real paradox.

(And, for the record: I think the singularity, if it ever did occur would be a disaster, and building a real Strong AI is about as sensible as developing nukes if you happened to live in a Gas Giant atmosphere. Self-aware sentient Being who views the Sun as an energy source with a large ball of iron for materials - what could go wrong? It's conceptually laughable how much a Strong AI would make Cthulhu seem actually interested in your species).

This is also why people probably did not like Echopraxia as much as Blind Sight

Blind Sight was an interesting book - Echopraxia was terrible, and derivative. i.e. a lot of Neal Stephenson rip offs. (Oh, and "Let's go to Mercury" ... "Vampire on the outer skin of our vessel in Mercury level sunlight").

On that note:

Just finished The Water Knife - I think it's a contender for the worst second novel ever written.

I'm not 100% convinced it wasn't ghost written. For a book on the edge of current events it managed to say absolutely nothing and even fail to be a proper noire / pot boiler / Pulp Fiction.


p.s.

Weird stuff you should note:

Salon does a piece on Orcas and Personhood (too late: Sonar abuse by US / RU / China and piece doesn't understand the 4 differing versions of their societies)

Sun does an arrow

http://phys.org/news/2015-06-filament-arrow.html

Greece kicks off tomorrow - Short traders are about to break the world or see their gold and silver crumble.


No. More. Hells. [YouTube: music, 2:30 - 60's, worth it for the joke]

233:

And since post Tuesday is my time to go, I'll leave you with a better argument than Salon in a single .gif

Type B (US nomenclature; guessed due to ice flows, could be Biggs) hunting in tandem (x3) using wave physics to dislodge a seal:

https://giant.gfycat.com/GrandioseTenseArcticwolf.gif


I'd explain it, but if you don't get it immediately, then there's no hope. Hint: understanding the behaviour of your medium outside your living zone is usually reserved for putting stuff in space (or not, so it goes).

234:

The whole of our SF and H+ future is predicated on us creating AI that is vastly more creative and inventive that we could ever be. It does not have to be conscious, and would probably be better if it wasn't. Invention machines, genetic algorithms etc

235:

Could be much worse
Gove did a lot of good in education, shafting the sloppy thinkers.
He's right about 2-tier law too.
Much much worse & completely slimiy is the revolting Chris Grayling

Personally responsible for making sure that people wrongly convicted, having lost years of their lives in jail for crimes they didn't commit get not a brass farthing.
What an utter shit.

I thus suggest you put Grayling in, instead ....

236:

Threat from AI is real
Claim some experts.
Your opinions?
Is this where the odd-shaped ones come from?

237:

I was at a meeting with a panel of AI experts and one question posed was "Will Humanity seriously regret creating AI". The panel was split evenly.

IMHO it's potentially an extinction event if we get it wrong. A real existential "double or quits" gamble. And I am in favor of flipping the coin.

238:

Gove did SOME good in education, but massively more harm. We are
going back to the days where the grammar schools (now academies)
both cream off the easier pupils and get proportionally more of the
money. That is one of the best ways to ensure that the underclass
created by the Blessed Margaret remains an unskilled underclass.
You HAVE noticed the fact that the UK's average skill level is
dropping, and we are increasingly relying on immigrants to do the
skilled jobs that we can't, haven't you?

239:

What laymen (including most 'computer scientists') miss is that
the technology being referred to has nothing whatsoever to do with
true AI. What it is, is simple automation of a bureaucratic
rulebook, leaving no discretion whatsoever, and will be guaranteed
to fail if something extraordinary happens and initiative is
required. The risks in doing that are real, but are different from
those posed by true AI.

There ARE people researching both on the cognitive basis of such
things as inspiration and initiative and on how one can emulate
such things on a computer, but progress is slow.

240:
Also, you keep saying "I" will regulate this or that. Again: you don't get to do that for a colony, after the first 20-80 years. Because then you're dead and it's another generation's job to run the show.
A shout for Rob Grant's "Colony," where the generation ship failure mode is "they actually do stick to the original plan" (the trip ends up taking several generations longer than expected).
241:

My bet is that any interstellar generation ship will look much like a very large hollow asteroid and have a "crew" of millions.

242:

My estimate was that a million is the upper bound of the number
needed, and ten thousand the lower bound. It wouldn't be hard
to make a more precise estimate, but it would be a hell of a
lot of effort. And, of course, the smaller the number, the
more effective the social engineering would have to be.

243:

If you posit the development of cheap biotechnology in the near future, then it is certain that some bright spark (or evil genius) will happen on the idea that letting people determine the sex of their children is a very marketable idea.

Should this be aimed at cultural groups that value one sex over another, then we will likely get to see the Tragedy of the Commons played out yet again, whereby most families choose to bear mostly the favoured sex of offspring, assuming that everyone else will not do this.

This is happening in India, where there is now a surfeit of males (whereas in the past there was always a slight surfeit of females). The results are not pretty at all; when (not if) this gets marketed to the middle east, I would wager that a generation of brushfire warfare will break out.

244:

As an aside, it is worth remembering that birds are distantly descended from therapod dinosaurs, and that chickens didn't get the memo that the days of being a terrifying, rapacious predator were over for them.

In Wales, in days gone by when it was time to dismantle a stack of harvested corn to feed it through the threshing machine, it was normal to let the chickens out of their run, as well as any dogs that could be trusted not to attack them. The older birds knew what was about to happen, and the younger ones simply followed on.

Stacked corn always got infested with vermin, and threshing time was a good time to kill off such wildlife before they got into the farm buildings. So, people and dogs were on rat-killing duty, cats and chickens on mouse-hunting. Chickens do not just eat insects; they are quite capable of catching, killing and swallowing a mouse whole, with no ill effects other than making the eggs taste a bit funny for a while.

245:

I looked up Irigay and didn't like what I found. Not because I'm a male chauvinist pig or insensitive but because she's just plain daft.Look at this criticism rom Wikipedia.


Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, in their book critiquing postmodern thought (Fashionable Nonsense, 1997), criticize Luce Irigaray on several grounds. In their view, she wrongly regards E=mc2 as a "sexed equation" because she argues that "it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us".[10] They also take issue with the assertion that fluid mechanics is unfairly neglected because it deals with "feminine" fluids in contrast to "masculine" rigid mechanics. In a review of Sokal and Bricmont's book, Richard Dawkins[11] wrote that, "You don't have to be a physicist to smell out the daffy absurdity of this kind of argument (...), but it helps to have Sokal and Bricmont on hand to tell us the real reason why turbulent flow is a hard problem (the Navier–Stokes equations are difficult to solve)."

246:

Not a scientist, but from reading the headlines, it seems that some core issues are being ignored in this discussion.

The point of having an ecology is that each organism within an ecology contributes specific chemical reactions to the whole, therefore to itself and other organisms. This means that:

a) no one organism therefore must make its own requisite 100,000+ different compounds from scratch;

b) mess with the ecology and you do not thrive (you die).

So, the SF trope of making organisms from scratch needs to be rethought, and unless/until proven otherwise, the basic assumption should be that while you can construct a complex living (biologic) organism in isolation (in a lab), a complex living organism cannot sustain itself on its own, therefore will not survive without an ecology. (DIY doesn't work.)


247:

On the subject of closed ecologies perhaps there are "almost closed" ecologies on Earth which can support life. As an example there are desert oases which could be considered closed and have long standing ecologies which seem to be stable.
Lake Vostock is closed but probably not able to support humans. Fish in caves might also be a possibility.

248:

Charlie calculated that the energy required to accelerate a 2 tonne spacecraft to .1 c was equivalent to 400 megatons of TNT, assuming perfectly efficient engines, no need for reaction mass, and neglecting the need to stop at the end (see "High Frontier, Redux" on the sidebar of this blog). The energy required to accelerate a hollow asteroid carrying millions of inhabitants to any plausible speed for interstellar travel is ... simply not available, really.

249:

I guess you could look on the positive side of this -- when for cultural reasons one gender is selected over another, we get a net gain in biodiversity as the overflow goes and breeds with the overflow from another culture that values the opposite sex (assuming that the rate of homosexuality is more or less even across both sexes and both cultures, and assuming that the rate at which bisexuals end up opportunistically settling into homosexual relationships is negligable). If these two cultures have been historically biologically insular, any pressure to breed outside their group is probably good for the stability of the whole.

250:

They're not closed... wind, traffic of various types. Even the ISS is not a completely closed ecology.

251:

The two major cultures that do gender selection for offspring (by selective abortion) are China and India. They both prefer males, and there aren't billion-person matriarchies to take up the slack.

Historically, a human population with a male/female ratio noticeably higher than 1 tends to have two characteristics: military aggressiveness and strong controls over women. The second characteristic comes from the realization by men that women who leave/escape aren't likely to be replaceable.

252:

That's why I wrote "almost closed" It seems to me that starting with an "almost closed" ecology might be a useful shortcut"
For a colony or generation ship the ecology need not be compleyelyclosed. Oxygen for instance can be manufactured chemically from ores or water. There's no shortage of oxygen on Mars but most of it isn't in the atmosphere.
One of the problems in the Biosphere (I forget the number) was that atmospheric oxygen levels fell. This would not be a problem on Mars.

253:

That's nothing compared to Qatar below. Look at the 25-54 age group .... males outnumber females almost 5-to-1.

This ain't natural ... what the hell did they do to all the females?!

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/qa.html

Age structure:
0-14 years: 12.5% (male 134,477/female 130,640)
15-24 years: 13.4% (male 208,278/female 75,889)
25-54 years: 69.9% (male 1,228,151/female 256,099)
55-64 years: 3.4% (male 55,386/female 16,156)
65 years and over: 0.9% (male 11,226/female 6,858) (2014 est.)

254:

That is disturbing. Still, the population of Qatar is almost three orders of magnitude smaller than China's or India's, so the geopolitical consequences are likely to be much less serious.

255:

At first I thought maybe this gender skew was because of imported workers ... but you do not import workers who are under 10 or over 65 ... so something else is going on. Plus -- the migration rate is pretty low (less than 3%), all things considered.

27.35 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2014 est.)

256:

Geopolitics doesn't always need lots of mass (population). In the equation of geopolitics the seriousness of the atrocity - wholesale butchery of a sex, race, culture) counterbalances the 'size'.

Review/just think of all of the petty and small central/south American petty tyrannies Reagan and friends put down.

257:

Actually, Wikipedia says (yes, I know) that there are only about 300,000 Qatari citizens. The balance of the population is foreign workers, mainly from India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Phillippines, etc. It does seem that the gender imbalance is due to foreign noncitizen workers. This squares with what I've heard about other small Arab nations like Kuwait.

tl;dr: Qatar is apparently absorbing/hosting/employing/enslaving (pick one) some of the excess males from India and related populations.

258:

Given that everyone I've ever spoken to thinks that Gove and his assistant, the one who wrote the entertaining manifesto/ complaint, were the sloppy ones, I have trouble understanding what you are on about.

259:

With all of this talk about creating self contained biospheres in space, nobody mentioned the "cook book" approach outlined in KSR's "2312"?

260:

Charlie, you have infused a joy in your Lovecraft pastiche (and your pastiches in general) that I rarely see. In fact, the only other writer I've found who shares both your joy and your skill for pastiches also shares the first three letters of your last name... American horror/gothic writer Peter Straub.

261:

Oh dear ...
"Selective" education does not necessarily mean Grammar Schools, nor everybody else going to useless Sec-Mods.
A comprehensive school can ( & should ) be selective, internally, with, for preference, setting by ability in subjects.
But there are still NUT dinosaurs in favour of full "mixed-ability" teaching, ARRRGH!

I hope that this is now clear?

Oh, and ... You HAVE noticed the fact that the UK's average skill level is dropping, and we are increasingly relying on immigrants to do the skilled jobs that we can't, haven't you?
Do I HAVE TO REPEAT my experience of having an Engineering MSc & not getting ONE DAY'S worth of work/employment out of it in a potential 20 years ... and "We can't get the trained staff"
I suggest you are looking in the wrong place ....

262:

Yes, I already knew about this.
It's one explanation for the insanity that is overtaking "the muslim world" (apart from the fact that it's a loonie religion anyway, that is) & is one of the "drivers" for the increase of very unpleasant (even by the standards of an unpleasant crime) rapes in that country ....

263:

Actually, the sex ration below 14 looks quite naturally. Wiki (yes, again) says 1.06 male per 1 female born is the norm for humans:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sex_ratio

After that, human males usually have a higher mortality (there are quiet a few evolutionary models that purpose male are a high risk investment compared to females), which would lead to

a) evening up later on and
b) a higher female live expectancy.

So the real problem is the high male-to-female ratios above 55. Though one could explain it away by

a) not all migrant workers returning when retiring
b) some hiring of older male specialists abroad

A higher male life expectancy would be another explanation, but even in such hotbed of emancipation as Afghanistan female life expectance is a few years more than the male one.

264:

Err, Greg, the highest male-to-female ratio in India might be in Jammu & Kashmir, which is predominently Muslim, but second is Haryana, which is predominently Hindu. And the other two countries with high ratios are China and Vietnam, both not so much Muslim but (Neo-)Confucian:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex-selective_abortion

So your traditional ethics or "tolerant" polytheism[1] can be as deadly for female embryos as "insane" monotheism, if not more so. Actually, a taboo on infanticide is one (somewhat problematic) theory about the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, but there is some discussion about whether it was sex-selective or not. An isolated abandoned child most likely not found in archaeological surveys and one of the most spectacular finds most likely linked to a slave brothel where the females were most likely kept as fresh supply for the trade[2] might skew the image somewhat.

[1] Let's just say bringing up Elst with me is something of a Beserk Buttom, though more with his beef with Witzel...

[2] Makes for some really squishy thoughts, what with regular clients and so.

265:

Err, make that:

Actually, a taboo on infanticide is one (somewhat problematic) theory about the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, but there is some discussion about whether infanticide in the Roman Empire was sex-selective or not.
266:

One of my Great Uncles was a policeman in South Yorkshire, and his advice to young recruits was to learn to type properly. This was at least 90 years ago.

With the computer so commonplace, it's even better advice, but it doesn't seem to be something explicitly on the National Curriculum.

My brother has strong opinions about the competence of politicians who make decisions on education. He used to work for a unit at Leeds University that studied science education, and in those days you could sit the experts on that subject around one table in the bar at a conference. There were very few people who had any involvement with testing student performance outside of the exam boards who set O and A-levels. When the National Curriculum started there were suddenly hundreds of experts.

Now they're talking about improving careers advice, again. It's been needing improving for a long time.

I'm sure they will find enough experts.

Funnily enough, I don't feel confident about what will come out of it. Unless you want to make a career in the think-tank business.

267:

Perhaps you haven't looked at the rules governing (private) academies; they are allowed to be highly selective, get significantly more money, and are handicapped by a lot less bureaucracy. I.e. grammar schools in all but name.

I never said that education was a solution on its own, and I am fully aware that many employers want more skilled staff only to pay them less and treat them worse, but I can assure you that the lack of home-grown skills is a SERIOUS problem in the (high-tech.) areas I am familiar with.

268:

Oh, and since a real nerd can't leave the pretext for a nice flamebait unused, BTW...

I think it's somewhat interesting that we shudder with the idea of sex-selective abortion and think it "medieval", while we think the abortion of embryos with cognitive and physical alterations not threatening their well-being too much (given the right care), e.g. Down syndrome acceptable or even "ethical" and "progressive". Where on a general basis we have no reason to think women are more coerced to the former than to the latter.

If you go with Singer, well, from an Utilitarian POV a child with Down syndrome most likely has more potential for a fulfilled life than a girl in rural China.

I lately have this feeling of a hierarchy of "special issue" groups, quite a few classical "Working-man-Socialists" think feminism and affirmative action humbug, quite some feminist and gay rights have it with queer and trans issues, and, well, being against sexism might not necessarily include being against ableism.

End of flamebait.

269:

Interesting that you can justify your ACME SPACE OPERA and ACME GALACTIC EMPIRE (EVIL) with the points being made here.

Your government has a vested interest in the infrastructure and trade network not falling apart (and triggering the mega-deaths and economic collapse one would see after that). Therefore the government will certainly be in the business of keeping things running smoothly. So every generation or so when your habitat decides to go off on its own thing, you'd expect the government to come around and thump things back into shape. And of course since doing so requires spaceships to get out there, and spaceships double as WMDs, the agency in charge of this will be more akin to the military than social workers and union negotiators.

So you get plucky locals want the freedom to do X, far off people don't want them to do X because X is really bad for proper running of remote space habitat, send in ACME SPACE NAVY to force compliance. Military does what militaries are designed to do - hurt people and break stuff - reputation of "distant elites send people to hurt us for trying to be free" results. Mix in that often X won't necessarily be bad for space habitat, but will cause distant inconvenience, situation much more grey.

Interestingly, also suggests why your ACME SPACE MARINES never have heavy weapons, tanks, artillery, or the like - if most of their work is boarding space habitats and putting down uprisings then they wouldn't need them. Setting aside the energy cost of getting a Challenger 2 into orbit, 120 mm L30 rounds tend to put large holes in the wall that you don't want, and it is a bit tricky to drive them down corridors the dimensions of walkway tunnel.

270:

And to the mods, as this is intended as a flamebait and this is not my soapbox, if it's too objectionable feel free to delete. I guess I have not turned VoxDay (at least I hope so, though I have this feeling I share some physical resemblance to him), and as for my Catholicism, I guess I'm about as (German-Polish) Catholic as Greg is (English-Hugenot) Protestant, but I have some problems with argumentations like e.g.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22361296

And I can't see anything that would exclude sex from the reasons for abortion or infanticide under this regimen.

271:

So basically, outsiders outnumber Qatari nationals 5 to 1? The 65+ year group doesn't make sense; that's a lot of seniors being hired. Although I suppose that British nationals upon retirement might opt to take advantage of the double tax treaty, i.e., avoid UK taxes.

Here's the same age/gender pop data showing the male/female split which really shows up the huge differences. (I suppose foreign males probably live in compounds far from the native populations.)

Male / Female
0-14 years: (12.5%) 51% / 49%
15-24 years: (13.4%) 73% / 27%
25-54 years: (69.9%) 83% / 17%
55-64 years: (3.4%) 77% / 23%
65 years+: (0.9%) 62% / 38%
Total population: 81% / 19%


Total males 1,503,041
Total female 355,002
Total pop: 1,858,043

If the total population of Qatar is only 300,000, then Qatar is also importing its army. If the available for military service is accurate and restricted to Qataris only (as is usual in most countries), then the age gender issue is in fact true -- there are only about half as many females as there ought to be. (Something's wrong here.)

(From CIA World Factbook)

Manpower available for military service:
males age 16-49: 389,487
females age 16-49: 165,572 (2010 est.)

Below is the same age/gender data for Oman .. which is quite similar in terms of culture, economy, etc. but whose demographics are much closer to 'normal'.

0-14 years: 30.4% (male 501,352/female 476,333)
15-24 years: 19.9% (male 335,404/female 304,261)
25-54 years: 42.6% (male 801,539/female 569,187)
55-64 years: 3.9% (male 67,085/female 58,254)
65 years and over: 3.3% (male 53,320/female 53,040) (20

272:

Charlie,

I read Equoid again, and it is the perfect length for a 90 minute horror movie. Just a thought.

273:

So? An efficient fusion process and engine backed with a few gigatonnes of Deuterium can boost a lot of mass

274:

Do we? I don't. Ignoring how it is done, one of the better plans
for social engineering of a closed habitat is to ensure an excess
of females over males, in order to minimise the violence associated
with young males. Whether that excess should be a few percent, or
a factor of two or more, I can't guess.

275:

To go for the Erikative, ächz, if you read up on the Qataris forces, according to

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qatar_Armed_Forces

only 30% of the army are Qatari citizens.

And the army is about 12.000 persons, the "389,487" you mentioned are all people in the age group.

Please note you originally wondered about the people younger than 10, where I explained given human reporductive biology, there is little reason to wonder. In fact, even the high male-to-female ratio in Northern India, Pakistan and the Caucasus might, with a very questionable might, be somewhat natural, for whatever skews the ratio in favor of males under Western European circumstances might skew it somewhat more under some other ones, especially shortly after war, after famine etc. So now we're left with the 65+ group.

And there might be expats over 65 for a variety reasons. You mentioned the tax, I mentioned migrant workers failing to return, and as also mentioned there might also be a market for higly skilled older immigrants. Though we usually don't call them that, but use their profession, e.g. "international entertainer", "international classical piano player", "internationally renowed manager" etc.

276:

First, an efficient energy-producing fusion reactor is another magic wand, or near enough.

Second, deuterated water costs $1045 per kg (Sigma-Aldrich, current prices), so gigatons of the stuff cost $quadrillions.

Third, the neutron flux would kill everybody.

Fourth, you still may not have enough energy.

Fifth, the waste heat would have the asteroid glowing white before it got past Mars, assuming (generously) 90% efficiency.

I'll stop there.

277:

So? We are talking engineering more than a century from now, at the very least. None of those problems are theoretically insuperable.

****Of course**** it is fantasy now, just like going to the moon was fantasy 100 years ago.

278:

i'll leave the other factors for others to dispute but an efficient fusion reactor would make the production of deuterated water cheap.

279:

Let's say that we're talking about colonization efforts 200 years from now.

Maybe their physics will be as much advanced over ours, as ours is over the physics of 1815.

On the other hand, maybe the framework we are using is almost completely correct, and nothing will happen but a better ability to fill in the blanks. We get better able to solve QM problems, better able to handle chaos, etc. But basicly nothing new happens in that 200 years.

I prefer to think it will be the first way, but lots of people prefer to think that in 1815 people knew a lot of physics that provided approximate solutions to physics problems but their models were crude approximations, while today we have it right and we fundamentally understand all of physics except for a collection of specific problems that remain to be filled in. I tend to think that my preference tends to correlate with people who like excitement and creativity, while the other is associated with stodgy toadlike conservatism.

If I'm right, in 200 years physicists will probably still believe in thermodynamics, and they will have careful explanations for the cases that look like exceptions. They will still believe in conservation of mass/energy and will have careful explanations for the exceptions.

Will they have anything better than antimatter as a rocket fuel propellant? I don't know.

Will they have convenient safe ways to store hydrogen? I have a vague idea that to maximize mV^2 you might want to minimize m, or maybe maximize the ratio of charge to mass. And hydrogen is pretty plentiful.

If we assume that the fundamental laws of physics continue to hold true as well between 2015 and 2215 as well as they did between 1815 and 2015, still that leaves room for lots of engineering improvement.

I don't feel competent to decide what will be possible, except in very general terms. And I have serious doubts that anybody else is competent at that, except in very general terms.

280:

If we assume that the fundamental laws of physics continue to hold true as well between 2015 and 2215 as well as they did between 1815 and 2015, still that leaves room for lots of engineering improvement.

The biggest theoretical barrier to space travel is the law of conservation of momentum, which implies that rocket travel needs lots of fuel to slow down. Therefore, it needs even more fuel to speed up the fuel that will eventually slow it down. If conservation of momentum holds, and it has since 1670, then that's enough to make manned interstellar travel wildly impractical.

281:

I looked up Irigay and didn't like what I found. Not because I'm a male chauvinist pig or insensitive but because she's just plain daft.Look at this criticism rom Wikipedia.

Sorry to say it, you just failed the Turing Test. Or at least the smell test. Or the "If you're scientifically minded, at least read 3-6 sample responses first".

I'll point you to a Reddit discussion (not exactly a high brow source) that comprehensively shows they made it up & it's highly unlikely she ever said it, and even if she hinted at something similar, it was making a rather different point:

https://www.reddit.com/r/askphilosophy/comments/2hu5sb/did_luce_irigaray_ever_actually_say_emc2_is_a/

Since that link is only 5-8 comments long and shows that it's a hack job of the highest order that shouldn't be on Wikipedia, I'll leave it at that.

You can try out the most likely 'source' of this, which was a small co-auth paper/OpEd for Hypatia (find out what this is first - then go read it all) that is no-where near her major work:

Le Sujet de la Science Est-ll Sexué?/Is the Subject of Science Sexed?


Plus, it was a double-edged joke:

You'll note that the Wikipedia page doesn't even mention "mucosity", which should at least warn you that it wasn't written by anyone who has ever read her:

It's a fairly sexually explicit theory revolving around boundaries and, well, mucus. Let's just say that Americans with their penchant for circumcision are trying to prune and create rock-hard boundaries (the same for FGtM) whilst she's doing the opposite.

You probably don't want my opinions on the damage caused by Male thoughts on mucus, esp. revolving around 'douches' and so on. Women dribble constantly: deal with it. Thus I mentioned "taboo" and expected you do connect a few dots - I'd even clued you in with slime mold, ffs. (Part of the genius of Alien(s) is the constant mucousity: this wasn't even accidental, the entire film is about male fears about rape).

Secondly, she famously wrote a book called Marine Lover: Of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Even if you've no idea about her work, Juggler's Seas, discussions of bioengineering and Orcas... *shrug*. It was funny.

Threat from AI is real
Claim some experts.
Your opinions?
Is this where the odd-shaped ones come from?

Bostrom et al aren't fucking around: there's some serious thinking going on. (*waves to Savulescu*)

Bottom line: the common notion of "AI" doesn't even understand the ecology of what it's being built on, let alone topology issues. (Hint: you can't download more RAM).

I would be more comfortable having a neural networked interface with a octopus (not a squid, bastards) than I would even an approximation of an AI.


(And yes, there's a joke there - who else is about to get fucked by a squid?)


~


Anyhow, if you don't understand mucous, you ain't going to understand why biotech is going to leap-frog everything else.

Sex selection for children has been available for 20+ years, fyi.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/medical-ethicist-ban-on-sex-selection-of-ivf-embryos-is-not-justified-8683940.html

282:

An efficient fusion reactor would be an excellent method of turning large quantities of pure deuterium into larger quantities of impure deuterium, I'll give you that much. It so happens that the purification is the hard part.

283:

Regarding Alien(s):

To spell it out for the oldsters, the retracting jaw + mucous with sharp pointy teeth is 100% a reference to Vagina Dentata with a bonus of adding in the thing that many males find most distressing.

I'll point you to the artist who designed it if you argue, since it's explicitly stated.

284:

The availability of electricity from fusion reactors would make the production of heavy water much easier and presumably cheaper.

285:

I would sugest that the person on this blog most likely to faila Turing test is you since you provide comments which most of us can't understand.

And this comment from your link meant to make your point does exactly the opposite.

Not sure about that one but it wouldn't surprise me. She does argue in chapter six that the reason we're having trouble with fluid mechanics in physics is because fluidity is feminine whereas math is rigid/masculine and so trying to understand fluid mechanics through a mathematical/masculine lens is flawed for gendered reasons rather than it just being a straightforwardly and nongenderedly difficult question.

Another example of nonsense.

286:

Sex selection for children has been available for 20+ years, fyi.

Depending on the particular culture, tests that can detect gender of fetuses at 90% efficiency have been available for 4000+ years, and unless my translation is wrong we've had abortifacients since at least the time of Hippocrates.

And of course selective abandonment of babies has been available forever.

287:

I would sugest that the person on this blog most likely to faila Turing test is you since you provide comments which most of us can't understand.

And this comment from your link meant to make your point does exactly the opposite.


Oh, I see.

Sorry, Fight Club is over, I won.

The highest chain states:


Sokal and Bricmont quote this claim about e=mc2 , saying it comes from "Parler n’est jamais neutre. Éditions de Minuit. 1987. p.110." In english, that's To Speak is Never Neutral (hence why that commenter referred to that text).

I don't have a French copy of the work (which Sokal and Bricmont are citing) but the English copy on google books has no occurrences of "Einstein," "speed of light," "e=mc2" or "e=mc2" or "e=mc", or "sexed equation." So Irigaray doesn't make the claim there Sokal and Bricmont accuse her of.

It's possible that the passage appears in the original French publication but was removed from later editions, however searching for it I can only find references to Sokal and Bricmont - either people agreeing with them, people refuting them, or people making the argument in "Fashionable nonsense" with no actual discussion of Irigaray beyond that quote.

So I'm skeptical Irigaray ever said it.

permalink

[–]jorio 2 points 8 months ago*

"Is E=Mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest…”

Irigaray, “Sujet de la science, sujet sexué?”, Sens et place des connaissances dans la société, 1987.

This seems to be the quote. It is said to come from this paper, but I cannot find the quote anywhere in it. However, the translator is listed as a co-author. I'm leaning towards this being a bunk quote, if you speak French maybe you could check it out. I would think a search for "mc", "e=" would be the same though

I do LOVE your response time though. Biblical in it's reaction field.


Want to get freaky? Old skool rules, whoever wins takes the soul of the other one?

Hint: Sharp. Pointy. Teeth.

288:

On the subject of Generation Ships and the sociological side thereof: when estimating how many people in various capacities are needed, don't forget that if your Generation Ship resembles anything like the current US society, about 1% of its inhabitants will be imprisoned at any given point of time. So if we're talking about a total of one million people, that's 10,000 inmates. You need to have the necessary infrastructure for that. I don't think this has been considered yet in this or any of the previous discussions of Generation Ships on this blog.

Discuss the implications of crime being a reality even on a Generation Ship: How much of the ship's limited resources can you waste on police, legal system and penitentiary system? Will "push'em out of the airlock" become the only and mandatory punishment for everything, in order to keep strict discipline? Can you afford the waste of human resources this entices? And if you don't want to waste the human resources that are your convicted criminals—who have all been trained to perform one of the many tasks that are crucial for running the ship—would forced labour become the norm for the prison system? But given that your inmates may hold a grudge against their society for imprisoning them, can you actually trust them to perform any task crucial to the survival of the ship? Etc., etc.

289:

The biggest theoretical barrier to space travel is the law of conservation of momentum, which implies that rocket travel needs lots of fuel to slow down. Therefore, it needs even more fuel to speed up the fuel that will eventually slow it down. If conservation of momentum holds, and it has since 1670, then that's enough to make manned interstellar travel wildly impractical.

Doesn't it depend on how fast you can make that fuel move?

If the exhaust speed is so fast that you only need a fuel:payload ratio of 9:1, then to be able to slow down at the other side you only need a ratio of 99:1 at the beginning.

And if you can move that fuel so fast that you only need a mass ratio of 1:1, then you can slow down by making it 4:1. With 16:1 you can come home without having to refuel at the other side.

I have no idea how to get that sort of velocity. But in 1815 wasn't it mostly gunpowder rockets?

290:

If you want to consider mucus feminine go ahead. In my first two weeks in a microbiology lab (in 1966) i had to deal with:
Vaginal fluids
Semen
Sputum (my first job in the lab was describing sputum samples before culturing them for TB. I was told to write BRG to describe a particularly unpleasant sample which filled the whole ice cream tub sized container and had to be teased out and cut with scissors. When I asked the meaning I was told "British Racing Green".)
Urine - if you think urine is never viscous think again.
Faeces of all consitencies from rock hard to clear mucus and worse.
Ileostomy fluid
Joint fluid
Pleural fluid
Ascitic fluid
Pus
I've probably missed some out but you get the point. On the vaginal fluid is feminine and actually dealing with this was quite popular since we liked identifying parasites using the microscope and Trichomonas Vaginalis was a favourite.
If you have more experience with mucus than this please let me know.
Of all the fluids I have dealt with pus in large quantities is easily the worst.


291:

Oh, and Mike.

You're gonna need to know a little bit about Deep Green thought, energy and so on if you really want to dance.

Here's a tip: J Thomas wrote a long list of stuff, I queried it, he responded, then I found exactly what he was referencing and said explicitly that he was 100% correct.

Since it only took me ~15mins to source all the papers, read them and so on, it was worth it. Plus, I don't mind being wrong given I learnt a few things.

You've done the opposite: stuck to your original position, cherry picked and then tried to start a fight over Reddit comments usually made by children.

And you still know nothing about Irigaray

Here's a thought [YouTube: Music]

Hint: mucousity is central to the 21st C.

It's all in the EyE [YouTube: Film]

p.s.


@spooky chaps. Reverb is a great way to see whose listening in.


292:

I've probably missed some out but you get the point. On the vaginal fluid is feminine and actually dealing with this was quite popular since we liked identifying parasites using the microscope and Trichomonas Vaginalis was a favourite.
If you have more experience with mucus than this please let me know.
Of all the fluids I have dealt with pus in large quantities is easily the worst.


Ok, you want to play, fine.

Here's your analogy in essence:

I'm a sewage worker.
I process shit.
I've dealt with dog shit.
I've dealt with human shit.
I've dealt with chicken shit.

I know all about shit.

I work in rubber overalls, gloves and it's all external.

That's your response.


Thanks Mike, fucking magical. Couldn't have proven it better if you'd tried.

Male = mucous = external only.
Female = mucous = boundary = produced internally, leaked to external constantly.


Please.

Before you reply.


Get a fucking clue.

293:

(Oh, and for the clued in: Buffalo Springfield - What's that Sound has had an artificial crackle overlaid on it that didn't exist until very recently. PSYOPS, oh how I love how fucking dumb you are)

0.001 close to nuking it all from orbit.

294:

My estimate is that your estimate is 1-2 orders of magnitude too low. Remember, our technosphere is the climactic product of at least 200-1000 million people. If you can count on importing memes from back home, then fine -- but if humanity goes extinct behind you, you're on your own: so to tackle unanticipated problems probably requires the research facilities of a medium-to-large European nation, at a minimum.

295:

Depending on the particular culture, tests that can detect gender of fetuses at 90% efficiency have been available for 4000+ years, and unless my translation is wrong we've had abortifacients since at least the time of Hippocrates.

I was taking the strict line of pre-selection, not abortion once gender is determined.

(It helps certain ethical positions)

296:

Male = mucous = external only.

Very true. As a man, I have neither mouth nor nose.

297:

Pity the man for he has no mouth, nose or anus and is doomed to either suffocate or eventually explode.

Personally I have been fortunate enough to spend my short existence in a tank of nutrients with no need of food, otherwise I would have been dead these last 40 years.

298:

[Times done GMT in honor of host]

23:25 Old Skool Rules were declared

23:50 Response (formal acceptance of challenge)

23:53 Rebuttal and claim made

00:45 No response

Mike, I don't want your soul, but hey, rules of the game and all.

Tick. Tock.

299:

Which gets back to the requiring enormous amounts of energy and your spaceship glowing white hot.

Long story short: the math for manned interstellar travel just doesn't work, and it doesn't come within six orders of magnitude of working. Nuclear power would be sufficient to get us to the gas giants, but we're as far from interstellar travel as dogs are from a moon landing.

300:

Very true. As a man, I have neither mouth nor nose.

Pity the man for he has no mouth, nose or anus and is doomed to either suffocate or eventually explode.

Personally I have been fortunate enough to spend my short existence in a tank of nutrients with no need of food, otherwise I would have been dead these last 40 years.

Do I have to point to the fact that anal expression of waste doesn't include mucous unless you've some really bad disorders of the colon going on?

Great, glad you know your biology.

But thanks. Added to the list: do you also want to play for your souls?

302:

p.s.

Thanks.

This thread (3) has so far proven that men have no idea about mucous.

Let's up it a little: apart from pinapples (which make your cum taste "sweet") and biotic yogurts, what do the men in this thread know about mucous?

We now know it doesn't come out of your bum unless you're ill, and it's certainly not in your mouth.


So, men in the thread, speak up: we need to know your thoughts so we can put them to rest as wrong.

p.s.


Fucking Hilarious.

303:

Long story short: the math for manned interstellar travel just doesn't work, and it doesn't come within six orders of magnitude of working. Nuclear power would be sufficient to get us to the gas giants, but we're as far from interstellar travel as dogs are from a moon landing.

Yes, agreed. And in 1815 we were that far from LEO.

There were calculations that by building just the right kind of gunpowder cannon we might be able to send people to the moon, but there was the problem of slowing down, and the problem of building a gunpowder cannon on the moon to return.

It's easy to describe the issues that stop us today. Much harder to be sure what we'll face in 2215.

Assuming we get to keep doing science for another 200 years.

304:

what do the men in this thread know about mucous?

We now know it doesn't come out of your bum unless you're ill, and it's certainly not in your mouth.

Woo! Somebody just failed the Turing test by revealing they have only a reading knowledge of defecation.

305:

Oh, and as for the nose: Totally different mechanism at work (and, being honest, although it seems similar, one is a response to exterior involvement, the other is purely based on internal mechanics).


Hands up who wants a lesson here?


Hands up, who wants to subscribe to 101: why pollen and vaginal automatic cleaning are different?


p.s.


Fucking. Golden.

306:

Woo! Somebody just failed the Turing test by revealing they have only a reading knowledge of defecation.


Come on now.

I play nice - hint: I even found the BG Hall link from 1982 and you didn't even acknowledge it. Whatever, but... BNW.

I also know what you're saying.

Since we're playing for three souls, step it up. (Of course, colon production of mucous is central, but it's largely reclaimed before expression unless illness stops that).

Fibre people, Fibre is all!

307:

Hint:


No-one so far has addressed the actual issue.

And that, proves it all (Equoid).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmVB8gDZTPs

(It's L7-Wargasm)

308:

.


I have no fear because I know the world is mad.

You're not fucking a Cat you're fucking the concept of a Cat that hasn't met furries yet so you're actually judging cross-cultural mimetic permutation in a hostile organism who has no idea that fucking an anthropomorphic Cat is hot as hell.

Q: We're Purely conceptual entities

A: Ok, so you'd know about this (MLP NUKE)

Q: WHAT THE FUCK, YOU'RE FUCKING A CAT

A: Thanks for playing, busted.


And, kids, that's how easy it was.

309:

Oh, missed the important part:

[Hostile Enitity]: I'd love to be a cat, safe on your chest...


Hint: Not a furry, but if you claim to be a conceptual entity, then sure as fuck am I going to use them as a weapon.

310:

CatinaDiamond wrote in part a few days ago:


None, and I mean none of these are based upon solar tech. It's all oil - which takes about a billion years to get ready.
The moment you put your food purely on solar and energy?
You're fucked.
It's the reason why there were about a 500 million people in 1907 and about 7 billion in 2007.
Jesus wept.

The Haber process consumes about 4% of the world's natural gas and 2% of energy worldwide.

If we can keep the lights on and keep our electric cars charged we certainly will be able to keep the food on the table.

311:

Re: " Please note you originally wondered about the people younger than 10, where I explained given human reporductive biology, there is little reason to wonder."

No, I was wondering about the 25-54 year age group. ("That's nothing compared to Qatar below. Look at the 25-54 age group .... males outnumber females almost 5-to-1.")


But you're right that I should have checked Wikipedia about the military although the outsourcing of military still strikes me as odd probably because I'm a Westerner (grade school history covered Fall of the Roman Empire).

The Qatar economy is also strange. There's a building boom at present, but what happens once the oil stops flowing? Their spending seems geared toward making Qatar into an oversized Disneyworld or Vegas (architectural monuments, lots of glitz). In contrast, their science program only started in 2008. But here it's also odd because the messaging suggests that Qatar's science & technology will be done in-house by the Qatari. How much research can this size population realistically do?


http://www.qf-research-division.org/qslp/criteria.php

"Targeting talented young Qataris with adesire to excel, QSLP is a career-development program that was established in 2008 jointly between QF’s Research Division and its partners. It is aimed at building the human capacity needed to make Qatar a leader in innovative research."


312:

I play nice - hint: I even found the BG Hall link from 1982 and you didn't even acknowledge it. Whatever, but... BNW.

I felt sad. That stuff used to be important to me, and now I can't even find the references, which have turned into historical references when I wasn't looking.

Nowadays those studies are getting repeated, but now they actually do gene sequencing to find out exactly what changed. They don't understand what changed but they publish it anyway.

Here's what's going on with that. I haven't seen this published anywhere so it might be just beyond the cutting edge, or maybe I'm just out of touch.

A bacterial cell carefully regulates the proteins it makes, it's important to make the right amounts of everything. Many, maybe most, metabolic pathways have controls that monitor the amount of the raw materials they start with and the products they make, and start making more of those enzymes a little bit before they need more.

When reearchers were first studying that, they assumed that all the details of that control were vitally important, that the genome was carefully designed to make just the right amount. But it turns out that some parts of it are more important than others. It's like -- if your thermostat turns your furnace on and off at the wrong temperatures, that's bad. But if it does it with the wrong cycle time, or it turns it on too gradually or not gradually enough, that is likely to still give you about the right average temperature. The important thing is that the production start more or less in time.

What happens if you put these cells into an environment where they starve, and there is a food they cannot eat? After they have starved for awhile they turn off their elaborate control system and start making a little of all their proteins. That control has a metabolic cost and they're still starving while they use it.

So, a little of everything. E coli has over 4000 proteins, and using those it can make everything it needs to reproduce itself starting from just water, salts, and an energy source. Biochemists talk like each enzyme has one function. But they tend to do half a dozen or more things. One thing they do very well, that the biochemists study. The others are side effects that maybe are not very important. One or more of those enzymes might do something to the inedible food. Maybe the cell can grow slowly.

But if the cell can grow fast enough, it starts up the control system and shuts down production of the enzymes that let it grow. Growth slows down until the cell is starving enough to start up again.The cell surges and stalls, not quite starving.

A few of the cells get mutations that help. A mutant enzyme that works better at its new task will be mostly useless. Its production still gets shut down every time it speeds growth. What works is to remove that gene from control. The promoter can be changed so that it promotes regardless. Or a repressor protein can be inactivated. Or an activator can be changed to always activate.

If we smash this one step in regulation, we can make the needed enzyme in large quantity. It's needed in large quantity.

If the gene is producing as much enzyme as it can but more is useful, the next selective step is to make a new copy of the gene. Twice as much of the same gene is usually better than a new version that works better.

There may eventually be six or ten copies of the gene. Which is better, a mutant that improves the enzyme or another copy? The mutant is better if it is twice as good, otherwise an extra copy is better. Usually mutants are not twice as good.

Very often the first selected mutation is a deletion, or a frameshift, or a transposible element copies itself into place. The reason is that the first thing that needs to be done is to destroy the inappropriate regulation that's keeping the cell from doing what it needs to do to survive. Mutations that smash stuff can do that.

I also know what you're saying.

Since we're playing for three souls, step it up.

I'm just kibitzing. I mean no offense when I say I don't want to take your soul from you. And I'd rather keep my own, even if it's borrowed, I've gotten used to it.

I would not compete for something important without an agreement about who decides the winner. If you have an associate who is skilled at removing souls, I doubt I would trust him to decide who and how many have lost and should have their souls harvested.

I am the fairest and most impartial observer I know, so if we have a competition I will decide who wins.

313:

All I know about mucus is that it's a lot of fun when the missus and I get to burn calories making it alternatively internal and external and generally getting it everywhere.

Aaaaaanyways, for someone who isn't too confident on their US cultural references you got a lot of the subtle stuff that made A Colder War feel homegrown down pat, right down to the little nod-and-a-wink about presidents and actresses skinnydipping.

I do love the idea of linked in footnotes to cultural references, but I actually go and hunt down stuff like that on my own anyways, having it right there would be great.

Oh, and if you want something good and rigid to build with, see if you can get some Xeelee Construction Material to play with... then if you can figure out how to get a secure handle fastened onto some can you make me a sword from it?

314:

I was unaware that "G. I. Joe" was American for "Action Man" until relatively recently,

I guess that line from Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places" about the "G I Joe with the kung fu grip" went straight on by folks not from the USA.

315:

I'll point you to the artist who designed it if you argue, since it's explicitly stated.
Sure about that?
I was always under the impression that H. R. Geiger's "Alien" was based on members of the order Odonata especially their nymphs, which have double-undershot feeding jaws of similar type.
Dragonflies are dangerous.

316:

Mint - especially any of the varieties of "pennyroyal"
Wormwood Artemesia absinthum
Rue Ruta graveolans - VERY careful with that one - it can cause external skin blistering, never mind effects if taken internally.
And, of course, the good old biblical stand-by, that can induce a come, resulting in someone (like Yeshua ben/bar Joseph) seeming to be dead ... Hyssop.
Lots of "traditional gypsy remedies".

318:

Or EARS, either...
There are certain (?)autoimmune(?) irritant-conditions that can cause one's ears to emit dribbles of unpleasant yellow/pale liquid/grease ...
Ask me how I know, or preferably, don't.

319:

Catina
POLITE please ....
You are showing distinct signs of having it in for any & all men, regardless.
IIRC, Charlie has asked us not to engage in personal abuse?
And to confine criticism to the facts - though you are allowed to point out that correspondent have not done their homework ????

320:

And, if we can keep the idiot watermelons quiet ... we can continue to use fission power, at the very least.
What power shortage?

321:

BUGGER
That should have been ...
"induce a COMA"
Oh dear

322:

"... then that's enough to make manned interstellar travel wildly impractical."

Unless you are talking about shifting millions of people in one go, taking a few centuries to hop between stars eg 1% C
Then factor in life extension, unless you believe we will never solve the ageing problem. In which case taking a few centuries to travel to (say) Centauri in a ship with a population of millions and the land area of a small nation, will be no hardship

323:

"Which gets back to the requiring enormous amounts of energy and your spaceship glowing white hot."

Only if the engines are internal. You can quite have them external and running a lot hotter than white, as most of the plasma will be contained by magnetic fields.

324:

Oh good lord that got a laugh out of me.

325:

We do at least know how to spell mucus and the difference between a noun and an adjective.

326:

"why pollen and vaginal automatic cleaning are different?"

Indeed. And why is a raven like a writing desk? Normally you
are pretty sensible, if a bit incomprehensible, but I am afraid
that I find the idea that men don't produce mucus a little bizarre.
I wish I produced rather less!

327:

Sorry, but none of the traditional tests for sex determination of
foetuses are anything like that reliable. 70% at best, but I can't
remember seeing a proper experiment that got better than 60%. I
agree that's enough to bias a population slightly.

328:

No way. There is a LOT more to producing food than nitrogenous
fertilisers. If you look at the scientific analyses, the planet's
capability for producing food is dropping, but that of producing
power is not.

329:

The energy required to accelerate a hollow asteroid carrying millions of inhabitants to any plausible speed for interstellar travel is ... simply not available, really.

Not actually true, if your time frame is long enough.

That 400 megatons to accelerate 2 tons to 10% of c isn't actually a lot of energy; it's about 1700 billion megajoules. Sounds like a lot? Well, actually that's about the electrical output of a big (one gigawatt) pressurized water reactor running over a period of 53 years.

Frame it differently: a 1Gw reactor could in principle (with a decent heat sink, etc) push a 200 ton payload to 0.1% of c in 50 years.

A gang of fifty 1Gw reactors -- we're talking the equivalent of the UK's electricity consumption -- could push a 5000 ton payload up to 0.1% of c in 50 years.

And so on.

Now, if we're content with an 0.1% of c cruise speed -- 5000 years to Alpha Centauri -- because we're sending a small inhabited asteroid -- we need to figure out the most efficient way of doing this.

Easiest way to do this is to build a fuckton of reactors on a medium sized asteroid back home, along with masers to beam the power at a magsail on the generation ship. Build, say, a gang of 50,000 gigawatt range reactors and we can send a 5 million ton payload.

The ship itself has a much smaller gang of reactors on board to provide power. And it doesn't need to actively thrust in order to slow down. 0.1% of c is a "mere" 300 km/sec. The solar wind blows at roughly 500 km/s and if it's using a magsail, it can use the solar wind for braking.

(Indeed, an m2p2 sail might obviate the need for that fuckton of reactors for acceleration in the first place, allowing a very efficient design to hit a 500km/s interstellar cruise speed on the outbound leg of the voyage before it hits the heliopause.)

Moral: fast relativistic travel is horrifyingly energy-inefficient. If you're able to take a few thousand years over it, even sending an asteroid colony begins to look plausible. It's a time/mass/energy trade-off.

330:

I lately have this feeling of a hierarchy of "special issue" groups

Congratulations, you've just rediscovered intersectionality. (I wish everyone else would discover it too.)

331:

You are absolutely correct. Now, do you have the £10M or so it'd take to do a low-budget professional production? If so, I can put you in touch with my media rights agent ...

332:

Fifth, the waste heat would have the asteroid glowing white before it got past Mars, assuming (generously) 90% efficiency.

Yes. I postulate that any sane interstellar mission would spread it's acceleration over a period of decades to centuries, not try and do it in a hurry. Alternatively, carry a stupid quantity of cryogenically cold water ice and boil the stuff off -- latent heat of vapourization of water is interestingly high (all those hydrogen bonds) and a cubic kilometer of ice at just over 3 kelvins makes for a big heat sink, starting out.

333:

I would sugest that the person on this blog most likely to faila Turing test is you since you provide comments which most of us can't understand.

This is not actually true; I understand Catinadiamond most of the time.

I'm kind of disturbed by your unwillingness to contemplate the possibility that wikipedia (editorial gender skew: 85% male) suffers from systemic bias and really can't be trusted on certain topics, because the vandals are actually the editors.

334:

don't forget that if your Generation Ship resembles anything like the current US society, about 1% of its inhabitants will be imprisoned at any given point of time.

Current US society is an insane outlier on the incarceration front, imprisoning more people than the rest of the planet combined -- it's up there with the Soviet GULAG system under Stalin as an exemplar of How Not To Do It.

Frankly, if a generation ship resembles today's USA sociologically in any significant way then I'd suggest it's doomed before it's been running for more than a century.

In fact, the whole concept of "law" as a secular religion may have to be revisited (and possibly replaced by some better way of handling societal iterated prisoner's dilemma games and resource allocation). Just as there's no room for growth-oriented capitalism on a generation ship, unless it's virtualized (e.g. inside a software environment, for software goods only, with restrictions on exchange rates for physical/real-world items).

335:

The Haber process consumes about 4% of the world's natural gas and 2% of energy worldwide.

If we can keep the lights on and keep our electric cars charged we certainly will be able to keep the food on the table.


Well, that's just not correct, there's a lot more expenditure involved than just that one process. e.g. mining phosphorus, transportation etc.

However, there's a potential new catalyst that could reduce this:

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2012/10/haber-bosch-ruthenium-catalyst-reduce-power

http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v4/n11/full/nchem.1476.html

Quote mining is rude, btw - especially if you conflate a general statement about the green revolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution) into a single chemical process.

If you're going to do that, do it right.

~

Normally you are pretty sensible, if a bit incomprehensible, but I am afraid that I find the idea that men don't produce mucus a little bizarre.

I wish I produced rather less!

The point which I was making was that your relation to making mucous is vastly different, which is the point where people misunderstand Irigaray: since I knew that, I just ran with it and turned it into comedy. (I even used L7 for various reasons: some being Pretend We're Dead and the album Hungry for Stink).

Sadly there were no light bulbs pinging.

Most of you view mucous as a temporary thing which denotes illness or as a fun thing that happens during sex while even directly telling you that's not the case for ~51% of the population resulted in total confusion.

I was pointing out boundaries and so on.

The response?

MEDIOCRE.

~

Sure about that?
I was always under the impression that H. R. Geiger's "Alien" was based on members of the order Odonata especially their nymphs, which have double-undershot feeding jaws of similar type.
Dragonflies are dangerous.

Yes.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/original-alien-concept-art-h-r-giger

The eggs looked even more like female reproductive organs in development and there was never any point where it wasn't all about alien penises inserting themselves into throats while tapping into the most hardcore male sexual fears.

It was quite deliberate:

"This is a movie about alien interspecies rape," O'Bannon said in the documentary Alien Evolution. "That's scary because it hits all of our buttons." O'Bannon felt that the symbolism of "homosexual oral rape" was an effective means of discomforting male viewers.


On dragonflies, fun fact:

Somewhere in Medieval Europe some muppet thought a horsefly bite was caused by a dragonfly, and they got the nick-names: ..."horse-stinger", "devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter", link them with evil or injury and thus humans started squishing them.

This is ironic, since they actually predate horseflies and are 100% harmless to people.

There's a lesson in this somewhere.

p.s.

The cat thing was taking things too far, but there we go, furries and MLP are too easy a target.

336:

Please note Mike's age and make allowances? You're arguing with a cranky 70+ year old [probably white] guy who probably slept through second wave feminism, if not Noah's Ark.

I suspect there's a bunch of others thinking they're tweaking your nose and Not Getting It. Don't worry, you'll almost certainly outlive them.

"Tomorrow belongs to me" can be played either way.

337:

Yes, indeed, for it is the Season of Hay Fever... Hey Bloody Sodding Nonny Noony and Happy Midsummer Nights Horror!

Ghods how I HATE the height of Summer in the Blistering Heat of The North East of England...

Mucus? HA! Women just refuse to realise how much men Suffer.

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hay-fever/Pages/Symptoms.aspx


This on top of the bloody HEAT!

And then there’s the Blight of Summer obsessed people being cheerful...

" Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more; men were deceivers ever.
One foot in sea, and one on shore, To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go, And be you blithe and bonny, converting all your sounds of woe into Hey Nonny Nonny! "

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sm6uoJTS3I

338:

The Haber process consumes about 4% of the world's natural gas and 2% of energy worldwide. If we can keep the lights on and keep our electric cars charged we certainly will be able to keep the food on the table.

I'm declaring this fatuosity to be evidence of a win for Catinadiamond by default.

Hint: agriculture isn't just about dumping nitrogen on fields. Look at the amount of diesel oil and gasoline burned to produce one litre/gallon/unit of biofuel if you don't believe me.

339:

Not sure about that one but it wouldn't surprise me. She does argue in chapter six that the reason we're having trouble with fluid mechanics in physics is because fluidity is feminine whereas math is rigid/masculine and so trying to understand fluid mechanics through a mathematical/masculine lens is flawed for gendered reasons rather than it just being a straightforwardly and nongenderedly difficult question.

Really, I mean really? Are you actually arguing that a reddit commentator's précis of an entire chapter of a paper is proof of your point rather than of the commentator's opinion?

Computational Fluid Dynamics is a difficult subject, but that's because gas moving over a body doesn't conform with any one of the well established laws of gas dynamics, instead acting in accordance with a varying mixture of all 3. The last time I looked at gas dynamics was 35 years ago, and I've still got that much of a grip on the subject.

340:

"The point which I was making was that your relation to making
mucous is vastly different, ..."

You are almost certainly as mistaken as the (real or imaginary)
men you are railing against. Oral mucus is a boundary, and used
as an interface both when eating and in sex, and many of us
produce an excess and often dribble.

Bronchial mucus is a boundary, too, and I have to expectorate
frequently (bronchiectasis), though I can usually swallow it;
I have lived with that so long that it is just part of my
existence. You are confusing a difference in degree with one
in kind and, to a great extent, it is social conditioning,
not innate, and in this (as in many such cases) many men are
more 'female' than many women.

Incidentally, I was amused by your reference to the vagina
dentata, and the fact that Kill Six Billion Demons depicts
that historical phobia.

341:

Greg, there's a reason you're not one of the moderators here. You might want to ask yourself why that might be.

342:

Please note Mike's age and make allowances? You're arguing with a cranky 70+ year old [probably white] guy who probably slept through second wave feminism, if not Noah's Ark.

Ah, I didn't know that - he quoted Reddit, so I assumed a CW40's techworker.

Mike, I should have phrased it all differently.


However, I was really drunk, so the fact I didn't direct link /r/grool to re-wire your sexual thinking is probably more luck than sympathy. (Put www.reddit.com in front of that for a shocker - NSFW it's pr0n).

Oral mucus is a boundary, and used
as an interface both when eating and in sex, and many of us produce an excess and often dribble.

That's a given.

Since we're in a thread about gibbering horrors and so on, and you've almost got the point but then dramatically missed it, I'll continue:

Vaginal secretions are notoriously considered in the same manner as a runny nose (but infinitely worse), as something to be treated, contained, never mentioned and shamefully hidden.

This isn't the case at all - nasal mucous is there as a defense, vaginal mucous (while also having this function) is just how it works. It's never not snotty down there, so to treat it in the same category is the root of many evils.

So, ironically, you've further proven that you just don't get the topic.

We have, however, unlocked a higher order achievement in that we're publicly debating the topic on the pages of a famous author's blog. Tiger Blood Winning.

343:

I know for certain that it can't be trusted on certain topics,
some of which where I am an expert and others where I have
both personal knowledge and have checked up the actual facts.
There are others where it is far more reliable than the official
story or, in some cases, even the received wisdom in academia.

In this context, the interesting thing is that it (as well as
the media, talking heads, 'respected' pundits etc.) are far too
much dominated by the 'official feminist' story as well as a
masculine bias. One example there is that pretty well the ONLY
people who feel safe to challenge the delusion that consent vs
rape is a dichotomy (and not a continuum) are women and the more
extreme male chauvinists. I could go on, but it's not my blog.

344:

"Vaginal secretions are notoriously considered in the same manner as a runny nose (but infinitely worse), as something to be treated, contained, never mentioned and shamefully hidden."

In my limited experience, that attitude has been more prevalent
by the women involved than by me. I am 67, 'white', upper-middle
class etc., but some people seem to think I am not fully human :-)

345:

Ah, I didn't know that - he quoted Reddit, so I assumed a CW40's techworker.

His reference to lab work in the early 1960s was a bit of a giveaway.

Me, I'd have led with, "have you ever wondered why tampon/sanitary towel ads on TV use blue liquid to demonstrate how absorbent they are?" if I was going to crack open a can of whoop-ass on gendered cultural blind-spots and body shame. Or, for added intersectionality lulz, ask what the difference is between muslim modesty codes relating to female hair veiling and western modesty codes relating to female breast veiling

346:

We do at least know how to spell mucus and the difference between a noun and an adjective.

It could be that I do too and am hinting at the wider abuses of the conceptual categories of mucus that are far wider than grammatical error.

It could be that I'm playing with Mucus - Mucous - Mucousity a little.

But mostly you'd be correct - I'd forgotten that mucus was the noun.

347:

In this context, the interesting thing is that it (as well as the media, talking heads, 'respected' pundits etc.) are far too much dominated by the 'official feminist' story as well as a masculine bias.

Who are these "official feminists"?

Hint: spokespersons for feminism are not necessarily type specimens. Or even mainstream feminists.

(I'll just go with "an individuals gonads or gender expression should not restrict the societal options available to them or be cited as justification for discrimination" and leave it at that.)

348:

In my limited experience, that attitude has been more prevalent by the women involved than by me.

Well, there's a reason for that, same reason that FGM is largely enacted by women.

That's not saying that it's sui generis.

Me, I'd have led with, "have you ever wondered why tampon/sanitary towel ads on TV use blue liquid to demonstrate how absorbent they are?" if I was going to crack open a can of whoop-ass on gendered cultural blind-spots and body shame

Too easy.

Large percentage of scientists in the house, hit them in the biologies.

349:

''Who are these "official feminists"?''

The fairly consistent majority of those who claim that they are
speaking for all feminists! As you point out, they are usually
unrepresentative. That's why I put it in quotes.

To CatinaDiamond: "That's not saying that it's sui generis."

That is my point entirely. You are making claims about men, as
if our attitudes are uniform and (more importantly) formed entirely
by men, rather than at least partially by women. What's sauce
for the gander is sauce for the goose :-)

350:

"Ah, I didn't know that - he quoted Reddit, so I assumed a CW40's techworker."

Well, I have nearly 70,000 points on Reddit which means I have the Right to downvote anyone, anywhere, anytime...

351:

"Me, I'd have led with, "have you ever wondered why tampon/sanitary towel ads on TV use blue liquid to demonstrate how absorbent they are?" "

Because they would rather sell to Royalty.
And as everyone knows, Royals never fart either.

352:

That is my point entirely. You are making claims about men...

Or I was parodying the original stance on Irigaray? (the "scoff, look what she thinks about e=mc2, she's obviously a batty loon, not a rational thought in her tiny little walnut!") The only step left is to invert your comments on the axis and discover what it's like to not be part of the consensus. i.e. one man's relation to bronchial mucus (

Aka, not everyone suffers from allergies, all (most!) women 'suffer' from vaginal mucus. (Btw - Discharge is something a bit different, I hung it out there, no-one noticed, so I didn't use it again. Wrong bait).

There's obviously a much wider discussion in there about how societies enact things like FGM or pervasive and ill thought out myths about bodies etc, but then I'd stitch it back into Equoid and start making references to hive minds and wondering how to hack an entire species back into sanity.


p.s.

I did warn you I was hot on the topic of chirality.

353:

(Note: host is an obvious expert on mimicry and parody - which might be why he often defends me. Wee!)

354:

Anyhow - Irigaray is really just a McGuffin here. There's plenty of issues with her, she suffers from an extreme case of the Catholic heeby-jeebies. (No, really - entire sections about Crosses and Insectionality with the vertical orientation of the vaginal opening. It's full on which is why no quotes: you need to discover it yourself if you're interested at all). Which would be a far better way to address her.

p.s.

Uff, somehow lost an entire section after "bronchial mucus", I suspect because I misused "").

355:

You will note that I have not posted anything about Irigaray; this
is because I have not checked. I have been caught once too often
by trolls deliberately misquoting experts in order to get me to say
that the expert is a loon, so that they can flame me. I don't
think that is happening in Wikipedia, but I can believe that she
is being misquoted or quoted out of context. The quoted claims
are, indeed, total bollocks but I reserve judgement on who is
talking bollocks - Irigay, Sokal/Bricmont, or others.

356:

@339:
Computational Fluid Dynamics is a difficult subject, but that's because gas moving over a body doesn't conform with any one of the well established laws of gas dynamics
---
That's because most of the gas laws are taught in such a simplified fashion that they're nearly useless for engineering purposes. Also, they're often taught as absolute laws, not as "moderately useful guides under certain standardized conditions."

Want to make a newbie engineer cry? Show him some century-old steam engineering textbooks.

357:

I'll raise you transonic flow of a heterogeneous, combusting gas
in a rapidly changing structure. I know enough about those areas
and their numerical properties that I blenched when the researchers
described it. Yes, it's gas turbine design.

Actually, even fairly simple fluid dynamics is a hard problem,
because it describes what is now called a chaotic system.

358:

I'm declaring this fatuosity to be evidence of a win for Catinadiamond by default.

It looks like we have a new Eater of Souls. Since the last one was codenamed TEAPOT, I humbly suggest the codename CRACKPOT for this one.

359:

Mods: I hope that wasn't too harsh. If it was, I apologize.

360:

You are almost certainly as mistaken as the (real or imaginary) men you are railing against. Oral mucus is a boundary, and used as an interface both when eating and in sex, and many of us produce an excess and often dribble.

Bronchial mucus is a boundary, too, and I have to expectorate frequently (bronchiectasis), though I can usually swallow it; I have lived with that so long that it is just part of my existence. You are confusing a difference in degree with one in kind and, to a great extent, it is social conditioning, not innate, and in this (as in many such cases) many men are more 'female' than many women.

You walked into tht one. Vaginas are a difference in kind, it's hard to argue otherwise.

How important is it? I don't know and I don't know how to find out.

Consider a lesser case -- some people are gingers. It affects every single face-to-face interaction they have, apart from people they only meet in the dark or at masked balls. Some people say that gingers have different brain structures. I tend to doubt it. OK, they have somewhat different ancestries, and there could be something to that, but science has proven that every group of humans has more diversity within it than there is between any two groups of humans, and we're all 99.99% identical anyway. It's very unlikely that gingers have any genetic difference from anybody else, except a few unimportant things like what makes them ginger.

And people don't treat them that different, right? There isn't anyracism against gingers, the red-headed step-child is a myth.

Well, but gingers can do subjective tests. They can dye their hair, and pretend to be something they're not, and see if it makes any difference. That's a whole lot harder to do with vaginas.

But all this theorizing is beside the point. What CatinaDiamond is doing, is presenting shibboleths. Riddles that members of her tribe know the answers to, but outsiders don't.

if you believe you have the right to judge the riddles according to standards of logic etc, that shows you believe you are privileged. You, as an outsider, don't get to judge the tribal riddles. The tribe judges you. If you are a good person and not clueless, you will realize that the tribe is right, and you will beg them to teach you, then if you learn the correct attitudes and truths well enough, you can become a provisional member. You can help the tribe work toward freedom and equality for everyone who deserves it.

But if instead you argue, you reveal yourself to be a supporting member of the previous power structure that is still oppressing good people everywhere. Then you deserve no sympathy.

I don't want to tell you what to do. I'm not even sure of your goals. But I can say with some certainty that when you try to discuss this stuff as if it's a matter of logic or rationality or science or personal experience, you will almost certainly find that there is no cheese anywhere in that maze.

361:

But if instead you argue, you reveal yourself to be a supporting member of the previous power structure that is still oppressing good people everywhere. Then you deserve no sympathy.

I don't want to tell you what to do. I'm not even sure of your goals. But I can say with some certainty that when you try to discuss this stuff as if it's a matter of logic or rationality or science or personal experience, you will almost certainly find that there is no cheese anywhere in that maze.

Since you referenced "gingers" and it's a well known trope that gingers have no souls so are inedible to this CRACKPOT, I'm assuming a fair degree of humour in your response.

As such, I'll treat the quoted text as an extreme form of self-parody of a current web meme war going on. (Meta-meta on the wall...)

The quoted text would be true if I wasn't applying parody to highlight something else (remember, I view the wiki response to Irigary as a hack job). What I'm actually doing is attempting to move beyond an old, out of date, debate and hint at ways out of the maze.

And, returning to your ginger example: I see what you did there. Stereotypically only male redheads suffer this, the female version having to live under the burden of 'fiery, passionate, Irish dragon-lovers' (there's a very funny bit by a red haired Australian comedian ("comedienne") whose name escapes me who has a good bit on being a red haired woman and attracting English males who always state their love of dragons, but my search skills have actually failed me on this one. She's over 6', wearing jeans if that helps).

So, no: I was parodying the expectation of the type of response you supplied, not actually providing that response at all. There was a strawman on the wiki, so I supplied another one, neither of which exists in reality. (However, it does highlight the difficulty of having such discussions).

So, let's do a bit of culture hacking: science has shown that red hair gives you less of a pain threshold (Increased Sensitivity to Thermal Pain and Reduced Subcutaneous Lidocaine Efficacy in Redheads), which we can all agree upon. So, in this analogy, the old argument would go something like this:

Red head: Don't do that, it's more painful for me
Non red head: Even if I accepted that as true, it's because you don't have a soul, so as a person with a soul I can poke you when I want.
Red head: But that second part isn't provable!
Non red head: Yes, which is why I don't believe the first part.
Red head: But that's mystical thinking!
Non red head: It's always been that way, sorry to say. Anyhow, culturally you'll find that red hair is more attached to beauty via rarity rather than any other, so you're lucky!
Red head: Why is that relevant?
Non red head: We discuss red hair far too much in any case, *pokes*
Red head: OUCH! FFS!


You'll note that neither side is particularly realistic.


The concept of reducing Irigary's "mucousity" down to the simplistic (although scientifically accurate) statement / discussion that vaginal mucus is a constant and society constantly treats it as not is just as sexist as the wiki hack-job.

The reason for this is obvious, I would hope.

We found that rats helped trapped strangers by releasing them from a restrainer, just as they did cagemates. However, rats did not help strangers of a different strain, unless previously housed with the trapped rat. Moreover, pair-housing with one rat of a different strain prompted rats to help strangers of that strain, evidence that rats expand pro-social motivation from one individual to phenotypically similar others.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3884117/

~


If your post wasn't extreme parody and was serious, please state now, I'll need to step back a bit and start translating. (And I'll reference the current meme war fairly directly).

362:

Jumping on a different track here with a question mainly for the boss-man and kinda for anyone savvy to big river company

So if I go into my kindle and change my location to London, I can get the Annihilation Score on the 2nd and read it over the long weekend. This is quite good to my impatient point of view.

Question 1) for this to work, do I need to cancel my American pre-order and buy it again on amazon.co.uk?

Question 2) if I do that, does the act of canceling a pre-order from one publisher and going to another screw the author over in any way?

363:

"if you believe you have the right to judge the riddles according to standards of logic etc, that shows you believe you are privileged."

I am, in many ways

"You, as an outsider, don't get to judge the tribal riddles."

Wrong - I get to judge anything I want to.
It's what you can enforce that matters.

364:

It's what you can enforce that matters.

To wit:

The empathic response involves activation of common neural networks for processing one’s own and another’s distress (Decety et al., 2012). Some forms of empathy are primarily dependent on subcortical neural structures that are phylogenetically conserved across mammalian species (Decety and Svetlova, 2012). Emotional contagion, a fundamental component of empathy resulting when the emotion of one individual evokes a matching emotional state in another individual (Preston and de Waal, 2002), has been demonstrated in rodents (Chen et al., 2009; Langford et al., 2006). Thus, rodents, and mammals in general, may share a mechanism for mobilizing pro-social motivation in response to the distress of another individual. We would argue that a rodent form of empathy, as defined above, is the main motivation for the helping behavior observed in our studies. Moreover, the absence of door-opening for rats of unfamiliar strains likely reflects a reduced empathic arousal of the free rats in these conditions.

Shub Shub

365:

"Meta-meta on the wall..."

Who is the obscurest of them all? If I read your defence of Irigary
correctly, that implies she is guilty of gratuitous obscurity and
abuse of allegory. The former is common in most of academia, and
the latter is pretty common in the area we are discussing. But, as
with the claim of talking bollocks, I reserve judgement until I have
read her for myself. It could be that she is just making a point
that is too subtle to report well - and that's common, too!

But I think that it is worth dropping this, as the debate is clearly
not going to be productive until and unless the other posters read
her as well.

366:

Yeah... whatever.
Action beats BS

367:

It wasn't actually about Irigaray, it was seeing if you could spot that I was being terribly sexist as well.

We didn't get so far.

But I will save you a frustrated journey: you're extremely unlikely to understand her.

That's fine, she didn't write for you. (Note: this isn't purely due to her gender, but the fact that the French is fairly hard to translate even before you realize that she's deliberately altering the contextual meaning of certain paired symbols (sun / light / truth and so on), not to mention she has a background in Lacanian psychoanalytic philosophy. And that most of her work is purely focused on a female theory of mind and lived body as a woman. Which, obviously, you're not party to. And a lot of it is directly responding to / altering a large corpus of Western philosophy / theology right back to Plato which you're required to understand beforehand).

However, she did take the time and effort to write books on subjects that pertain to psychology, the transcendental, poetry, semantics and philosophy. Oh, and G_D. And Angels. (Not traditional Biblical Angels, but... yes, Angels).

You can claim many things, but what you can't do is categorically reject it as "total bunk" without putting in the effort to understand it. No more than I could claim that building jet engines was "easy" once you've grasped the basics of Newtonian Laws.


~

Which is what a lot of snarky young male atheists who are editing wikipedia have done. However, you can be fairly sure that the Catholics don't like her either.

368:

Wrong - I get to judge anything I want to.
It's what you can enforce that matters.

Yeah, I've got a feeling you're imagining an authoritarian with rainbow hair as the antagonist here, which isn't what's happening at all.

*shrug*

369:

"You can claim many things, but what you can't do is categorically reject it as "total bunk" without putting in the effort to understand it. "

More assumptions...

370:

Note: Irigaray is a product of her times, and was fighting against some fairly specifically European cultural influences, such as Freud, Lacan, the Catholic church and European society in the post-war period. She's also the 'poster girl' of people you love to hate if you need a post-modernist feminist bogeyman.

She will be almost totally untranslatable to a modern American / British Engineer mind - it's like Chinese films & their sense of humour.

~

About 200 comments ago I made a joke using her as short-hand for that thing in the woodshed and look what happens.

Oh well.

371:

"She's also the 'poster girl' of people you love to hate if you need a post-modernist feminist bogeyman."

There's no shortage

372:

More assumptions...

You're not putting much effort in, are you?

Of course you can reject it immediately as "total bunk" once you see that she's talking about G_D / the divine / the 'sensible transcendental' , 'Angels' (not white wing things) and so on.

But your claims are only true to your own viewpoint in that case, since you've barely any idea why she's talking like that.

It would be like reading our host's Laundry files with 100% no working knowledge of Britain or Lovecraft, no knowledge that humour is intended, assuming they're set in Latin America and dismissing them as "nonsense tales of a raving madman that are obviously fake". (And before you say it: host has a conceptual framework of parody that he's sticking to - if he wrote and broke it / couldn't use said framework, then conceptually he'd be in error. Apply to philosophy as intended - which you won't, you're just being fighty fighty).


CRACKPOT OUT.

373:

You are making a large number of assumptions about me that you have
no evidence for. Inter alia, why do you believe that I need to
translate French to read it?

There are a lot of male 'philosophers' who have claimed that it is
necessary to be 'one of them' to understand their witterings, and an
even larger number who have claimed that women are incapable of
understanding advanced concepts or logic. I regard them as complete
prats, at best, and usually bigots of the nastiest and most ignorant
sort.

"You can claim many things, but what you can't do is categorically reject it as "total bunk" without putting in the effort to understand it."

Which is what I have said, repeatedly. However, if the author makes
it gratuitously obscure, then that is grounds for damning a work.
I would similarly damn a work, if it is something that, in the eyes
of the average reader, contributes to bigotry. I am still keeping
an open mind, despite your postings on the topic!

374:

People are getting annoyingly close to needing a warning.

Feel free to discuss the philosophy of metawarnings.

375:

I was warned about metawarnings. I ran away.

376:

You are making a large number of assumptions about me that you have no evidence for. Inter alia, why do you believe that I need to translate French to read it?

Statistics mostly: mentioned because the French is conceptually tricky and has suffered from some bad translation issues, so it is probably best to read the original:

In Speculum, Irigaray presents her case through parodic quotation, together with allusions, homophones and puns. The inadequacies of the English translation - which not only lacks decent footnotes, but also omits portions of the passages from the philosophers that Irigaray quotes and then mimics - have increased the sense that this is simply "mysticism".

https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/the-canon-speculum-of-the-other-woman-by-luce-irigaray/408050.article


Anyhow, enough:

Here's a sample (Full book pdf 'This Sex that is not one', English - chosen because of chapter 1 title)

https://caringlabor.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/irigaray-this-sex-which-is-not-one.pdf


Judge for yourself, I apologize for assuming anything about you.

377:

Posted before metawarnings came in.

Exiting thread!

378:

"You walked into tht one. Vaginas are a difference in kind, it's hard to argue otherwise.

"How important is it? I don't know and I don't know how to find out."

It requires patience; but once complete gender change back and forth becomes practical (and reasonably cheap), you will be able to gain personal knowledge.

Note that current gender changes have limitations. To begin with, the skeleton doesn't get changed.

Digression: I might try being temporarily female. But I would not want to be even temporarily righthanded.

379:

OGH wrote:


I'm declaring this fatuosity to be evidence of a win for Catinadiamond by default.
Hint: agriculture isn't just about dumping nitrogen on fields. Look at the amount of diesel oil and gasoline burned to produce one litre/gallon/unit of biofuel if you don't believe me.

Now, that's not fair, neither her nor your answers. I am certainly aware of phosphorous and 40-odd other essential minerals, topsoil losses, water depletion, the surrounding biome, etc. One of her lines of thinking terminated in "ZOMG HABER UNSUSTAINABLE" which is, in light of the numbers, an innumerate argument. It's not a significant societal power input requirement, period.

The *rest* of everything is still obviously in play as issues, but many of them are also amenable to long-term solutions as well.

We are not trying to recycle nutrients in human waste, they mostly fertilize ocean algae blooms these days. Those would be better captured for use on land. We're not mining trash dump sites yet, but it's going to be attractive for a number of ingredients before too long (and we are already doing useful stuff with the methane from them and from poo, in some locales).

Topsoil is a problem, but farming methods improvements should help fix that. Also, making more topsoil is quite possible, it's just that geoengineering is impolitic. You just need powdered rock and biomass and time. Rock we have. Time we have. Biomass we have and can point in that direction (long term compost cycle for less but eventually compostable waste streams, etc). Cost will be minimal, rock is pretty cheap. 10 km^3 of rock powder is enough to cover the continental US a mm deep (9.8 m km^2), or about 2mm of topsoil. The US mines about 0.5 km^3 a year now (2.1 billion tons/yr in 2015 est) for industrial and commercial sand, gravel, and crushed stone (60% crushed stone 40% sand/gravel), so it's in scale with existing production.

With all these questions, there are all sorts of conservation methods, from brute force of making more of it to recycling it to using it more efficiently. We *may* have items for which we are truly Running Out and can't do something about it, but in most cases it comes down to modest price increases and systemic changes in ways of doing things.

The biofuel problem is mis-stated. Of course, if you tank your trucks up with Diesel and use Corn Ethanol for biofuel the numbers look bad. If you produce Jatropha Oil diesel and fuel your trucks with that, the net output per hectare is not too bad (you use a small fraction on production support, 30-40%). It's possible to do biofuel badly, from any rational sustainability point of view. That's not the only way. We're doing it badly now, but there are demonstrations of doing it right. Economic and political idiocy are driving the current large scale production rather than long term sustainability. That will change.

380:

Also, making more topsoil is quite possible, it's just that geoengineering is impolitic. You just need powdered rock and biomass and time.


That's not correct.

Making good topsoil from scratch is one of those tough problems we can't do properly yet, it's really tough.

If you're ameanable, could you do that thing that J Thomas did - cite sources / expertise so that readers (me, in this case) can trace your thinking and see where you got this idea from?

A selection of Broadsheet coverage of the '60 years of topsoil left' issue (all links safe, go to articles in major broadsheets) from 2014:

A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded – the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone.

http://world.time.com/2012/12/14/what-if-the-worlds-soil-runs-out/

An estimated 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost annually with more than 80 per cent of the world's farming land "moderately or severely eroded", the Carbon Farming conference heard.

A University of Sydney study, presented to the conference, found soil is being lost in China 57 times faster than it can be replaced through natural processes.

In Europe that figure is 17 times, in America 10 times while five times as much soil is being lost in Australia.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/agriculture/farming/6828878/Britain-facing-food-crisis-as-worlds-soil-vanishes-in-60-years.html


The implications are terrifying. "The world is facing a serious threat of a major food shortage within the next 30 years. We are trying to grow more food on less land while facing increased costs for fertiliser, fuel and a short supply of water," says Professor Keith Goulding, head of sustainable soils at Rothamsted research station and president of the British society of soil science.

Lester Brown, president of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, says it takes between 200 and 1,000 years to renew 2.5cm of soil. "The thin layer of topsoil that covers the planet's land surface is the foundation of civilisation. This soil, typically 6 inches [15cm] or so deep, was formed over long stretches of geological time as new soil formation exceeded the natural rate of erosion. But sometime within the last century, as human and livestock populations expanded, soil erosion began to exceed new soil formation over large areas."

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/dec/14/soil-erosion-environment-review-vidal


ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said on Friday.

About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day.

The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/


This all comes from FOA - UN (http://www.fao.org/home/en/) who although probably have an ideological axe to grind are still an extremely respected organization.


p.s.

@Jay - CRACKPOT, love it. Oddly endearing.

381:

If your post wasn't extreme parody and was serious, please state now, I'll need to step back a bit and start translating.

It doesn't matter whether I was doing parody, if you can't tell.

I run into this with US politics. People try to make parodies of GOP positions, and they can't do it. Their audience can't tell the parody from the original. Typically Republicans can't tell the difference either and respond favorably. Or maybe they don't mean it but are parodying themselves....

It looks to me like you have basicly said, "Let's play bullfight. I'll be the matador, you be the bull." So you wave your cape around and people charge at you. "Too bad, you completely missed me because you didn't understand my reasoning. Better luck next time." "Oops, you missed again, the bulls who quoted that woman got it all wrong and you believed them." "Another miss, you'd have to understand French to really get what she's saying." "You just keep missing! You can't really understand her unless you're a woman in the time and culture she was writing for."

And they keep saying "But I really did gore you! I hit you."

And you say "No, you don't get to decide who won, I decide who won. Because I understand the real world, and I understand you, but you don't understand me. If you were really good at understanding you would know what it means every time I wave this cape to confuse you. But you cannot ever win, because you are a bull and I am a matador."

As long as it's consenting adults and nobody gets hurt, I don't see I should complain.

It's completely clear to me that the tribal stuff is going on a lot around me, and it's important. A whole lot of stuff that passes for communication is really just tribal positioning, deciding who's in and who's out. If we confuse that stuff with actual communication about real-world problems, we will stay confused.

I don't claim you are doing that. I can't tell whether you are doing heavy parody or not. I could imagine that when it looks to you like you're losing an argument you retreat to "It was just parody, I didn't mean it anyway" and then you retrench at a more defensible position before your next big surge of attack. But I can't tell what winning means to you, so I can't test that idea.

I tend to be a nominalist. I believe that people learn language by linking it to their own experience. The experience is primary, the words and meanings are secondary. No two people can ever communicate exactly unless they have had exactly the same experiences.

We could take this reasoning to an extreme and say that no two people can ever communicate. If that's true then there's no point arguing about what it means that we can never ever communicate, because it can never mean the same thing to any two of us.

But my experience tells me that sometimes people can communicate some, by some sort of miracle. It's always tentative, tenuous, there's no guarantee. If I'm in trouble and I yell "Help, save me" and you throw me a rope, that's convincing that we have some sort of shared understanding at some level.

So I like to look for opportunities where some communication can happen, rather than stress that it's always imperfect, incomplete, possibly a fantasy. It feels so good when I imagine that we're communicating that I keep trying.

382:

In which case, given, that you just said... Frankly, if a generation ship resembles today's USA sociologically in any significant way then I'd suggest it's doomed before it's been running for more than a century.


O.K. How long do you give the current iteration of the USSA to run?
Stalin's death - collapse of SovUnion = 1953-1989 = 36 years.
Um.

383:

Since whatever (worms, eating of, dislike).

@Peanut gallery:

Yes, on post 376, via the Times Higher Education supplement, you did spot the real joke. Mimicry, parody, puns, allusion and so on. Via a source that's impeccable to the readers. Spot the wrinkle of the nose to the host's OpEd - they employ the same way of thinking.


Past / Present / Future. I prefer actual/virtual, concrete / discrete, but hey.

Oh, and MF is running a feature on pain / red hair / women lagging behind my pastiche example by a few hours.


Action beats BS

Define action.

This is a serious question.

If you limit yourself to the purely physical, you've already lost.

But it's not allowed and I'm not loved (unrequited, oh, how male!)

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.


Declarations of Victory on the Human Time Scale are basically admittance that you're limited beings.


Oh, and @host:

No, sadly: there's not a very high likely-hood I'll live longer than most of your blog followers, or in any way like I should be present in the present. (Nor do I hope that any of them suffer unforeseen accidents / shortenings).


Dragonflies was a bit much, cruel in the extreme [YouTube: Music: WWII reference]


Once again:

Define Action

The man who defined the 20th Century was Edward Bernays. Even Hitler's lot learnt a lot from him.

Oh, and to end on a funny: he lived to be 103 (There is no G_D and if he did exist he probably hates you).

He literally lived longer than the century he shaped.

And he did nothing but sit in an office and sex up cans of beans. As far as 'action' goes, that's pretty small potatoes.


384:

SEE your own reply @ 336?
ALSO: I'm 69, I sometimes use phraseology that wrongly gets me labelled things I really don't want to know about, & presently, I'm still suffering from arm/shoulder pains which made me unpleasant company at Eastercon (as you will recollect)
My explanation is that it appears that I had a triple-fracture of the upper arm protuberances on my humerus, which has only recently shown up on X-ray/ultrasound scans (ouch).

Given my age, I try to be as flexible as I can, but I can understand quite well why not ....
But I still find Catina, whoever he/she is very difficult to engage with in a meaningful manner.

385:

Everyone
Can someone explain why BLUE liquids are important?
Totally confused her.

386:

I don't claim you are doing that. I can't tell whether you are doing heavy parody or not. I could imagine that when it looks to you like you're losing an argument you retreat to "It was just parody, I didn't mean it anyway" and then you retrench at a more defensible position before your next big surge of attack. But I can't tell what winning means to you, so I can't test that idea.


Ahh, I see. No, no, no.

That's not what's happening, at all.


This is why this is a central question: did you intend the Gingers = No souls parody trope mining, or did you just use it because X?

On this joke hinges a lot of responses.

The reason I'm asking is because Host has pointed out multiple times I'm dealing with minds-not-from-my-time-zone so it is important.

Plus, I'm a fucking mind.

"Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath"


Not Even My Final Form [YouTube: Music: 3:51]

p.s.

If you've not got the Alien(s) reference via biomorphing to host organism yet, you probably should have.

Ask for labeled links in a particular manner? You got it, and so on. Let's not pretend I'm not playing nice.

387:

Can someone explain why BLUE liquids are important?
Totally confused her.

Colour theory:

Blue = sanitary, clean, crisp, water, freshness, refreshing.


It's basic psychology.

With THIS product, you'll feel fresh as a spring in Iceland cooled by Elves!

388:

Yo DO REALISE that "Crackpot" is an actual place in N Yorkshire, don't you?
It's in Swaledale near Gunnerside ...
A very close friend & old lover of mine lives near there ....
N 54.365380, W 2.043966
is apparently the georeference.

389:

If true, that's scary.
As you ma know from posts, I hold an allotment & "farm" it fairly intensively, using organic ( horse-manure) compost ...
Meanwhile industrial aggroculture ( no not a mis-spelling) is wasting this precious resource.
Not good.

390:

"Also, making more topsoil is quite possible, it's just that geoengineering is impolitic. You just need powdered rock and biomass and time."

That's not correct.

Making good topsoil from scratch is one of those tough problems we can't do properly yet, it's really tough.

I'll present a partly-false idea as if it's true, because I can say it simpler that way and I think it's partly true.

Remember people talking about how ecosystems produce a big variety of waste products that are hard to break down, and it takes a whole ecosystem to recycle all that stuff, and so it's very hard to make closed systems that are stable because they inevitably lack some of the actors needed for all that recycling?

Topsoil is full of the waste products that are hard to break down. Because it's difficult and slow to get rid of them, they accumulate. Over a very long time plants have evolved to be good at growing in these waste products, to the point that many plants do worse without them.

Of course it's a tough problem to make good topsoil. It's basicly an arbitrary problem. We don't know any fast efficient way to add infrangible waste products to the soil without also adding much more that does break down with immediate side effects, because natural ecosystems have not needed to do that. They just let the waste products accumulate as they do, and evolved to live with it -- however it worked out.

We can typically grow crops faster and better with inorganic fertilizers. In the short run. Various human actions help the topsoil get metabolised. We introduce more oxygen by plowing etc. Allow more erosion. Provide minerals that let things grow faster. Some soils do well for some crops even after the topsoil is mostly gone. Others don't. We can breed crops that grow well without topsoil.

It's a complicated farming issue. How to grow good crops cheap, when mineral fertilizers and gasoline etc vary in price.

Topsoil does not release its minerals easily, and when they're gone it has no more. We can mix in things that contain small amounts of minerals in a refractory state, and slowly condition the soil to release that stuff, and keep doing it to produce something kind of like topsoil. This has not been particularly workable in the past. The basic problem is that we want to produce large amounts of crops which then get taken away and those particular minerals never return. Subsistence farms don't have that problem, they can have topsoil. It's cash crops that are a giant problem. Topsoil is not particularly compatible with cash crops grown at large yields per acre.

Traditionally people farmed until the land stopped producing, and then they abandoned those farms. They could slow the loss with letting the land lie fallow some years, and with crop rotation. Slowly things like feldspar in the soil would be dissolved and release new minerals, and the land would gradually recover until next time.

Topsoil is not particularly the issue. The issue is growing lots of food without using much fossil fuels or expensive fertilizer etc. China has traditionally replenished their cropland by using the least educated plus political dissidents to collect human excrement from cities and towns, and drag carts of it to farms. It can be worked into the soil with hand tools. They traditionally did not eat raw vegetables because of the contamination problem. Something along those lines might be possible, but there are lots of trade-offs.

Bottom line: The problem is not how to make topsoil. The problem is how to grow large quantities of crops given constraints. Topsoil is neither necessary nor sufficient for that, but it could be part of some varieties of solution.

391:

NO

It is nothing to do with basic psychology &
EVERYTHING to do with basic bullshit.

Once,working in a research lab, where colours were important & so was visual & other imaging, someone asked:
"What's the natural order of the colours?"
- & got the answer: "Yellow, brown, green, blue, pink, black" (!!)

I must admit, it raised a good laugh.

392:

No.

Three fields solution, English agriculture - timeframe - roughly 1,500 years ago.

Crop rotation of three crops avoided exhaustion.

No.

Salting fields and problems with irrigation based agriculture can be traced to ancient (middle period) Egypt and Indus valley.

Ancients knew how to destroy productivity and knew the rough causes (salt), they just didn't have many solutions.

No.

Topsoil is the issue. Dust bowl 1930's - topsoil. Chinese famines (both pre and post Mao) - topsoil.
Russian famines (also Ukraine) - topsoil.

etc.

This was well known, it's why hedges in England are so common: what changed was people's faith in oil based products that would magically prevent this from happening.

Oh, and before you do that thing about England: research soil loss in Easter Island, farming methods revolving around moisture gathering from low stone wall production, post tree depletion.

No.

Producing topsoil suggests you have any idea of the actual bacterial, viral, micro-organism (ETC) ecosystems in soil types. You don't.

You have a very partial picture, which is further hampered from real research from employing the chemical grade Napalms that 1950s+ chemists suggest you should use.

You. Do. Not. Know. How. To. Make. Soil.

Time taken: less than 5 mins. Links referenced, can provide.

As stated. Gingers or else.

393:

Greg, yes it does.

Advertisers have spent 100 years conditioning people to the concept that Blue = equals those things I said.

They've done it so that they can splash blue dye and not mention blood (amongst a lot of other things).

If you want to get kinky, ask yourself why the "American Dream" always had a pool.


Want links? Ask for them. Trust me.

394:

Fundamentally I feel the difference in mindset and approach to the world.

On the one side we have scientists/engineer. They have been trained to say things as simply as possible, cut through the crap and extract the essence and value of what is being said, in order to build on it and move forward. This works because the simpler you keep it, the further you can advance before getting bogged down in incomprehension. One example which contradicts the postulate has the ability to damn it.

On the other we have the humanities. They have been trained to confuse, obscure and bullshit - and above all to make sure they mirror the prevailing view. If it sounds good, well then obviously it is good. Evidence is extremely lacking, reasoned logic takes a holiday, and one example is enough to confirm a postulate.

And then they meet.

The first reaction of a scientist/engineer to an 'verbal diarrhoea' statement of a humanities type (particular a postmodernist) is to unpack it, pull it apart, simplify, and try and work out what is trying to be said. They don't let it wash over them. The result is usually either stupefying banal, or just plain wrong. They question, 'what is it you were trying to say' - and get back a response which is again, wordy drivel. They look up the bio of the individual - what's they best they have done, what do they hang their hat on? The result is yet more stuff that to a scientist/engineer says nothing. At this point the humanities type is consigned to the same sack as marketeers, homoeopathy, politicians, and second hand car salesmen.

The reaction of the humanities type to the questioning is something of shock, and disgust. You aren't supposed to ask direct simply questions, you are supposed to answer wordy bullshit with more wordy bullshit. There is also a bigoted viewpoint that says subjects like philosophy are inherently more intellectual than those rude mechanicals in the sciences. In short they get their backs up and end up rejecting the view that "you're talking shit", with the view they have been taught to hold, "you aren't smart enough to understand."

I'd suggest Catina comes from the second mindset, and many others, Elderly Cynic included, come from the first.

That's a chasm that's never likely to be truly bridged, and OGH has expressed some sympathy for Catina's position. I'd suggest that's because his job forces him to straddle those mindsets - wordy bullshit is what he DOES.

To Elderly Cynic I'd say; I understand and sympathise with your statements, but you're probably not going to kill the 'bullshit argument is good' worldview of those from the humanities - that would take a change in the education environment (which for better or worse is probably being forced on us). Those that can, and do, will make money, which means the education system will progressively favour STEM over "do you want fries with that" subjects. Bullshit postmodern philosophy will probably die down to background noise - bullshit SJW/feminism viewpoints will probably cling on longer.

And to Catina, I'd say, you have undoubtedly been taught that your way is the best way; that abstract allusion to a point is a better approach to truth than simply stating it. However, it annoys the hell out of many people and fails in the primary aim - you don't communicate any worthwhile point, you piss off people. Cultivating a capability to say what you mean and mean what you say in the simplest possible terms helps not only communicate with a sizeable chunk of the population, it also helps you to think and understand better. You can spot your own bullshit.

Same goes for Elderly Cynic in reverse - learning to bullshit is extremely useful for getting a class of 'buzzword bingo' managers onside - and covering up things you'd rather others didn't notice. It has value in that the meaning often isn't in the words, but the unspoken bits - feeling over fact.

And finally, a plea from me personally. Can we please stop with the "privileged, white, heterosexual, male, hegemony" unsubstantiated bullshit - it is massively pissing me off. No matter how much you want to rant, I damn well know I'm not privileged, and that to get anything I've had to fight every step of the way. In fact I know that in the world of STEM I've had women explicitly biased ahead of me, for the sake of 'balance'. To then have these bullshit, spurious claims made by vested interests touted as fact is like lemon in a papercut. It's a bigoted, sexist, attitude; stop it.

395:

I LOVE KSBD, but I'll provide a metametametawarning about it: you will hate yourself when you binge read them all and have to wait a week for each new one like the rest of us. T.T

396:

This is why this is a central question: did you intend the Gingers = No souls parody trope mining, or did you just use it because X?

I had not noticed the Gingers have no soul parody.

I looked for something I could use as a physical difference among humans that nobody would think of as racism, that does not actually involve any discrimination. That was the first thing that came to mind. Not that there has been none. Robert Anson Heinlein married a red-head and wrote that they are aliens and not human. Etc. But surely no one takes that sort of thing seriously.

If you've not got the Alien(s) reference via biomorphing to host organism yet, you probably should have.

It might be a cultural thing, but to me it looks like you are free-associating and then expecting other people to free-associate the same way you do.

If you want to communicate it might make sense to lower your sights. Try to get some simple stuff clear, with lots of redundancy, and probably settle for that. Communication is chancy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUUhDoCx8zc

397:

On the other we have the humanities. They have been trained to confuse, obscure and bullshit - and above all to make sure they mirror the prevailing view...

I'd suggest Catina comes from the second mindset, and many others, Elderly Cynic included, come from the first.

Did you miss the part where I constantly post accurate scientific papers from fields and am able (from J Thomas' muddled recollections) trawl, read, digest and then trace exactly the paper he remembered?

That's a chasm that's never likely to be truly bridged, and OGH has expressed some sympathy for Catina's position. I'd suggest that's because his job forces him to straddle those mindsets - wordy bullshit is what he DOES.

OGH has fans who love him here - he's probably not minded to dislike any of us, ever-so-much how we irk him.


At this point the humanities type is consigned to the same sack as marketeers, homoeopathy, politicians, and second hand car salesmen.

Again, no.

In this very thread you have me (EVUL WOMAN HUMANITIES, ALLEGEDLY) asking J Thomas about what he's talking about... and then I link into it direct just so everyone knows he's got serious credentials and knowledge.

If I was doing that axe grinding, fighty fighty thing... would that have happened?


And finally, a plea from me personally. Can we please stop with the "privileged, white, heterosexual, male, hegemony" unsubstantiated bullshit - it is massively pissing me off. No matter how much you want to rant, I damn well know I'm not privileged, and that to get anything I've had to fight every step of the way.


I guess you missed the memo that's been ignored by the Twateratti: You're poor.

That's the real issue over rainbow hair: most of them are sucking the teat to get the bucks because it's a cruel cruel world out there...

Oh, and for the record:

I have a B.A. and a M.S.C.


I can do both: IT'S A FUCKING UNICORN!

398:

I had not noticed the Gingers have no soul parody.

No, this is actually 500% more important than you realize. (It's a heavily 4/8 chan thing)

Second question:

Your observance of tribes: are you engaged with various (anti)Semitic groups?

Again - I've no idea if you'll answer truthfully, but you're putting out signals that are waaaay different than you think.

:CheeseMonkeys: and Fight Club.


We're not in Kansas anymore.

399:

Hint Mr Thomas:


You're (perhaps unwittingly, perhaps deliberately, perhaps meta-narratively) doing what we call "Signalling".

I'm a Mind of the nasty bent (Oh, Dirk, if only you knew what's to come) but you're basically waving a flag for some nasty things out there.

Now, if you're doing it all deliberate like, we can get down and you can get the real version of the No,No,No post and I can extend the real claws / dragonfly jaw with mucus all over it.

If you're not, I'm here to warn you that you're touching the Void.


Make a Choice[tm] in the Virtual. Dirk is here to make sure the Actual takes note as well.


p.s.

Ian S is hilarious: old weapons from old wars, I'm reminded of Absolution Gap. Only he's not a chaotic quantum weapon from times of old, he's the sad remnants of a dead G_D having a wank.

400:

(And... that's a RED CARD)

Oh well.


Be Seeing You.

401:

Three fields solution, English agriculture - timeframe - roughly 1,500 years ago.

Crop rotation of three crops avoided exhaustion.

I'm not ready to provide links for my view. I think it's a point of view that's worth considering, and I know it isn't the whole story -- I can describe some of the rest but I want to get the simple idea across first. So when I ask you for links showing that three-crop rotation eliminated soil exhaustion for hundreds to 1500 years, it isn't a "you have to back it up entirely or you're wrong" sort of request.

People knew that leaving the land fallow some years improved its fertility back in biblical times, and going from three-crop plus a year fallow to other things that looked more productive .... my point is that none of this highly labor-intensive agriculture was very productive. To do it the old way we would need more land and we'd need to put a whole lot of peasants on that land, and we probably can't do it until after a moderate-size population crash.

Salting fields and problems with irrigation based agriculture can be traced to ancient (middle period) Egypt and Indus valley.

Ancients knew how to destroy productivity and knew the rough causes (salt), they just didn't have many solutions.

I don't know why you bring that in. Sure, if you use groundwater you add salt. You can remove the salt by flushing the land with lots of pure water, but the reason you irrigated in the first place was that you didn't have that pure water available. OK.

Topsoil is the issue. Dust bowl 1930's - topsoil. Chinese famines (both pre and post Mao) - topsoil.
Russian famines (also Ukraine) - topsoil.

It isn't nearly that simple. Let me put it this way: Would an extra 3 inches of topsoil have prevented the dust bowl, the Ukraine famine, the chinese famines, etc? I say no. I could be wrong for indirect reasons because it is very complicated, but the direct reasons don't give you that result.

You. Do. Not. Know. How. To. Make. Soil.

Of course not. Further, topsoil as we know it is a byproduct of ecosystems. They can't make it fast because they do not get much benefit from making it. It is a collection of waste products that they do not benefit sufficiently by removing, to create ways to remove it more efficiently.

Some crops in some souls do better with topsoil. Some of its benefits could be provided by crumbled styrofoam which might last for thousands of years with little maintenance.

We don't yet have an adequate alternative to modern farming. We can't go back to the old ways (much) until after a population crash, because they don't work well enough. We can do it for rich people who want their food to be special, but not for the rest.

402:

In American idiom, "crackpot" signifies an argumentative eccentric. It's used to describe people who, to choose a random example, repeatedly and stridently voice unconventional views on the semiotics of mucus in forums where this is not ordinary behaviour.

403:

Regarding topsoil - the doom and gloom faction ignores that there are places we've seen - 10k years ago - the topsoil scraped away down to bare rock that now have meters of topsoil. Organisms came in but most of the materials are either sediments or formed there in the last 10k years. As with the environment, and sea level (10 k years ago you could walk from Germany to the middle of the North Sea, as the glaciers retreated. The sea level rise came later.) these things change a lot over thousand and ten thousand year timescales.

Soil generates given our environmental dust and biomaterial background; if you have a flat area on rock on a mountain, and erosion deposits gravel and sand and fines it turns into soil in human observable timescales (years). Its quality level doesn't go that high without long term biomaterial growth, but soil happens.

Regeneration is similar; it's not as simple as "add rock dust and biomass and voila!", but if you take an established topsoil and keep adding appropriate fines then the bulk will go up, and if you keep adding appropriate biomass the bulk will go up, and it will spread. The rock needs to be fine enough to leach minerals, but even bulk rock's not that impervious to water anyways.

The doom and gloom is that:
1. There's clearly largescale topsoil loss going on now.
2. There's no largescale study of effectiveness of adding what materials to what types of topsoil to know what the appropriate response is for loss in a given area / biome.
3. It may take longer to be effective than we have given the loss rate.
4. It's geoengineering therefore politically incorrect and not getting support from either side to work on those problems. The greens want to cut losses and the conservatives want to ignore it.

That is different from "there is no likely practical solution".

404:

People knew that leaving the land fallow some years improved its fertility back in biblical times, and going from three-crop plus a year fallow to other things that looked more productive ...

That's explicitly not what the three field system is about - it's about growing crops that either fix certain elements or take them out of soil.

Reason that many ancient fields in England are heavily ridged? Due to this (the fallow part was cultivated on the ridge section)

my point is that none of this highly labor-intensive agriculture was very productive.

Egypt was the bread-basket of the Ancient World. Even then (modern kingdom) it was important enough that Caesar / Antony and so on would engage in politics, not war. This is entry level stuff.

I don't know why you bring that in. Sure, if you use groundwater you add salt. You can remove the salt by flushing the land with lots of pure water, but the reason you irrigated in the first place was that you didn't have that pure water available. OK.

No, that's not the case at all. Both Egypt and Babylon used the natural cycle of flooding to irrigate their lands. Babylon faced desertification first, then Egypt.

And, if you don't understand the salting reference:

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.

Hint: They salted the earth, ffs. It's partly the reason Hilary is getting a hard-on for wasting Gaddafi.

You're dealing with psychopathic entities who are enacting the last war they'd love to win.

It isn't nearly that simple. Let me put it this way: Would an extra 3 inches of topsoil have prevented the dust bowl, the Ukraine famine, the chinese famines, etc? I say no

What?

Topsoil didn't create those things, it resulted in losing topsoil.

Seriously: are you even bothering to think at this point?

Topsoil is 6" max, if you're in the right region and in the right geological zone.

It's not always 6", so losing 3" is pretty fucking important if you're not at the global maximum (which you aren't, since you weren't born 9,000 years ago).

Of course not. Further, topsoil as we know it is a byproduct of ecosystems. They can't make it fast because they do not get much benefit from making it. It is a collection of waste products that they do not benefit sufficiently by removing, to create ways to remove it more efficiently.

Some crops in some souls do better with topsoil. Some of its benefits could be provided by crumbled styrofoam which might last for thousands of years with little maintenance.

No.

Ah, I see.

You're doing that thing where GMO can solve it all, so you can suggest salting the earth that's used for agriculture with fucking styrofoam (about 1.8 million hectares) which is made out of fucking oil.


Hint: you're an idiot.

We don't yet have an adequate alternative to modern farming

Yeah, there's plenty.

I even mentioned them:

Cloning Meat
Farming Insects


Thomas.


If you don't want the Things in the Dark eating you alive, try harder.

/ou


(The sad thing is: doing this on 20+ units of alcohol to allow slow mode.


Oh, and x100 pissed off: YouTube can't even provide the ending of "The Man who fell to Earth" which was there a few years ago. Hint: It's not a copyright issue, YouTube is allowing mass spamming without algo pruning and so on.

Hint: WE SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING THERE BOYS, AND I'VE A SURPRISE FOR YOU.

CUNTS. And I mean that in the worst way possible.


The muppets are winning, and you've not even noticed it. It's like watching the world's largest car-crash, with Top Gear supporters cheering it on.

405:

No, you're an idiot.


the topsoil scraped away down to bare rock that now have meters of topsoil. Organisms came in but most of the materials are either sediments or formed there in the last 10k years


I'll point you to a salient fact: the extinction of most of that biota, including the megafauna.


You. Are. Literally. A. Tool. Who. Has. Zero. Knowledge. About. Ecosystems.


Seriously: you're a dangerous muppet / willing patsie / useful idiot.


Note: not a single credible source, just bullshit.

As stated: 0.001% away from "Nuke it from Orbit, it's the only way to be Sure".

406:

Hint:

It took 3k++ years for that soil to form.

GeorgeH's response:


YEAH BUT WE HAD LIEK A FUKING ICE AGE WITH GRINDN ROCKS N SO ON AND NAOW WE HAVE LIKE SOIL ITS ALL COOL BROS.


Seriously: kill yourself.

Your soul is already non existent.

407:

"I had not noticed the Gingers have no soul parody."

No, this is actually 500% more important than you realize. (It's a heavily 4/8 chan thing)

I have ignored 4/8 chan. I don't see why 4/8 chan is at all important.

Your observance of tribes: are you engaged with various (anti)Semitic groups?

No. I am unsympathetic to israeli persecution of palestinians, but I don't have any plausible long-term solutions in mind. I don't trust palestinians would do all that much better if the tables were turned, and it seems implausible that would happen in the foreseeable future. It makes a certain sense for israelis to keep persecuting palestinians until after they are sure that palestinians have completely stopped hating them.

One time I got the idea that palestinians might be better off if they applied to the USA for the West Bank And Gaza to become a US territory. It would be a risk since the USA is so strongly pro-Israel, but the USA would be less flexible about giving away palestinian land if it was US land, and if there were US soldiers there the Israelis probably wouldn't do as many airstrikes. I decided to send them a letter suggesting it. But the PA websites were under DDOS attack. I tracked down the PA consul to the USA, who was a chemistry professor in a US university. But when I tried to reach him, he was no longer at the US university and his email at the Canadian university he'd moved to, bounced. I gave up.

That's as close as I've come to engaging with an antisemitic group.

408:

You're good then.

Just be aware...


The things I hunt in the dark and the light and the cruel black seas also use said signalling functions. You've been putting up flags that explicitly flag you for that kind of thing, not just to me, but to algos, Gov. Bots and Spooks.

Consider this a freebie: clean sheet, point made, done deal (you know, if you're not lying and all).


(Oh, and @peanut gallery - that includes the ones who cling to Zionism or G_D as a defense. We're an equal opportunity predatory lifeform)

409:

I guess you missed the memo that's been ignored by the Twateratti: You're poor.

That's the real issue over rainbow hair: most of them are sucking the teat to get the bucks because it's a cruel cruel world out there...

All of which means what?

Is it agreeing that the core determinate for success in this world is fitting in? Is it disagreeing and saying I am actually privileged? Is it random railing about the unfairness of the world? Is it a call for rainbow hair?

See what I mean about not being able to clearly communicate your intent?

Oh, and for the record:

I have a B.A. and a M.S.C.

I can do both: IT'S A FUCKING UNICORN!

Can do and are doing are two very different things. It's no good complaining if you delight in being obtuse, and then nobody sees any value in what you say.

Ian S is hilarious: old weapons from old wars, I'm reminded of Absolution Gap. Only he's not a chaotic quantum weapon from times of old, he's the sad remnants of a dead G_D having a wank.

I'm not surprised you descended to the insults, as I said, the type tends to claim "I'm more intelligent than you" when asked to back up what they say that's put to scrutiny.

Actually I think the reality is the tide of history is against YOU. Business used to be 'bullshit bingo' and 'jobs for the ... arts grads' - but it's moving much more towards data driven, cold hard fact and delivery. The old standby of talking a subject to death with meaningless phrases doesn't really cut in world where those with a bias towards logical thought and action have already delivered whilst you are still consider what "synergising the metaknowledge from the historical gestalt" actually means.

Bullshit is the old weapon; delivery the new.

410:

For those who don't know, if you removed usernames and thread persistence from reddit, and mixed in some of the nicest sociopaths you've ever met, you'd be pretty close to 4chan. It's at times an awful and wonderful place, and a huge amount of stuff you encounter involving memes and jokes and whatnot passes through 4chan and it's ilk before filtering through the friendlier portions making up the rest of the internet digestive system.

411:

And that, btw, is Laundry Files in action.

Be Seeing You.


The Prisoner - all Be Seeing Yous [YouTube: TV: 4:12]

Hint: no, we're not fucking around.

412:

You're (perhaps unwittingly, perhaps deliberately, perhaps meta-narratively) doing what we call "Signalling".

I am not doing that. You are reading that in.

This is anti-communication. It's like if we were talking about climate change, and some climate change deniers claim that there won't be any global warming because as soon as we get a little global warming it will cause massive clouds which will cool off the earth, and after we get the massive clouds cooling off the earth there will be no climate change. And then in some other context I say "What about cloud cover, what will happen with that?" and you say I can't talk about that because it makes the bad guys look credible or something. It's anti-communication, stupid people saying stupid things get to stop us from saying the truth.

413:

Actually I think the reality is the tide of history is against YOU. Business used to be 'bullshit bingo' and 'jobs for the ... arts grads' - but it's moving much more towards data driven, cold hard fact and delivery. The old standby of talking a subject to death with meaningless phrases doesn't really cut in world where those with a bias towards logical thought and action have already delivered whilst you are still consider what "synergising the metaknowledge from the historical gestalt" actually means.

Mr Ian, you've no idea what actually I am. You're tilting at rainbows and it's sad.

Hint: I am not your rainbow twaterrati in action.


If you want a real fight, I'll do it:

But first, you have to raise your game from the banal muddy canal you're trapped in.

“The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide from under it with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way, you stand a better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous marks the difference - the only difference in their eyes - between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that it’s nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal.”

Altered Carbon.


Hint, if you didn't already realize it: the original "Personal is the Political" that this is based upon was written by a woman.


Now, man up or shill off: you're being boring.

414:

I am not doing that. You are reading that in.

I have literally told you that you've been targeted and now you've been cleared.


But you've treated it like it's a SF plot.


Fucking. Get. A. Grip.

415:

Catina - I admit I don't do topsoil ecology for a living. However, I have had friends that did (the one that did fluid and dissolved minerals propagation through soils particularly, though that lab also studied the propagation of biomass and particular species through soils and breakdown of rocks, pebbles, sands, and fines). The one most involved is dead now (lab accident with industrial strength ultrasound equipment in lab, tens of KV through chest 8-( ), but the work continues in many places.

There are perfectly valid arguments that the soil complexity problem is extremely high, and that we're not studying soil growth from source materials in nearly a sufficiently detailed and wide fashion. But you're making it out like a whole field of study which looks at the natural processes here does not exist in a comprehensible and numerically valid manner that I could be aware of.

Your "it took 3k years" is true and yet meaningless; did it take 3k years for enough organics to enter the soil, for enough variety of microorganisms and fungi and worms etc, 3k years for the leaching of minerals, what? And if we have say a 1-3 meter layer of healthy topsoil, what does that say about adding say a mm per year of fines and sand, or 1 mm a year of extra biomass tilled back in, or both? We have the base biomass and biocomplexity to work with present already in that case.

There *are* scientists doing these things in labs and selected test fields. It's not like imagination fails on doing the experiments. It's in having enough data to understand the full impact of trying to scale it up and make it geoengineering scale that we collectively fail.

There's promise there deserving of attention *in addition to* all the things we should be doing to stop erosion. We should stop the erosion, but we also should be working to put it back.

416:

The one most involved is dead now (lab accident with industrial strength ultrasound equipment in lab, tens of KV through chest

Sorry to hear that, raise a glass for me.

And if we have say a 1-3 meter layer of healthy topsoil, what does that say about adding say a mm per year of fines and sand, or 1 mm a year of extra biomass tilled back in, or both?

You cannot have a 1-3 meter layer of topsoil.

It's measured in inches - 3-6" being the usual ranges.


As such, and since you've not presented any credible papers:

While I honour your dead friend, you're full of shit and shouldn't be lecturing on this. (Hint: posters such as J Thomas can do that any time they want if I opine on E.Coli GMing etc and get it wrong).

Basically, I'm calling you out - it's "ok" to not know things, it's not "ok" to fake that knowledge.


Oh, and Mr Thomas.


No, I wasn't joking. Fucking hotzone, here to spare the good guys.

417:

Regarding the 3-6" comment:

Active biological topsoil extends no further than a foot, and so on. It's all about the worms.

So, no: spreading rock dust over land and "adding biomass" is about the stupidest solution to topsoil I've ever heard.

But then again, apparently I'm anti-science! And a woman! And a humanities grad!

Oh, the horror.


@Host.


Sorry. CRACKPOT engaged: followers can't even engage with entry level aggression levels, will cease and disengage.

I wasn't even nasty: you asked nicely, so I didn't bend their minds.


/shubbatical, have fun. Real things and Real pain awaits. You've no idea.

418:

CatinaDiamond wrote:


You cannot have a 1-3 meter layer of topsoil.

It's measured in inches - 3-6" being the usual ranges.


As such, and since you've not presented any credible papers:

While I honour your dead friend, you're full of shit and shouldn't be lecturing on this. (Hint: posters such as J Thomas can do that any time they want if I opine on E.Coli GMing etc and get it wrong).

Basically, I'm calling you out - it's "ok" to not know things, it's not "ok" to fake that knowledge.

You can ask 100 soil scientists and get 100 answers on the depth question (I have). There's a variable depth profile for each type of activity (biomass, microorganism activity, fungi activity, insect activity, mineral mobility, worm activity, water permeability, ...) in different types of soil. There are many whole journals on this stuff. Terry was talking about profiles going down tens of meters that were interacting on a decade timescale with the surface in minerals and microorganisms.

Usually the most activity is in the top layers of course, often mediated by air permeability because so many of the mechanisms depend on it. But if you take a 3-meter deep chunk of soil and bring it up to the surface it starts interacting more actively.

I'm not faking anything, I'm not an expert. I just know some people (knew one really well but he's gone 10+ years now) and follow along a bit. But you're "calling me out" without having presented either your credentials, a good survey overview, or specific paper citations of your own.

As a non-expert, I admit my overview understanding and the limited 10 or so professional textbooks and 100 or so journal articles I read while I knew him only informs me so far. But I have that. So, stop being hyperbolic. Put your cards on the table. If there are good modern references on the depth of the biocomplexity depth profile and the biomass depth profile across say the nationwide or worldwide soil averages, which support that only the first few inches matter for this discussion, lay them on us.

Screaming and treating me like an idiot doesn't convince me or anyone else. I may be mis or un-fully-informed. Show me.

419:

The blockquoting failed in the above, my comment starts at the "You can ask 100" line.

420:

Having gone back and looked at the soil classification jargon again, he and the others were studying profiles down into the B horizon depths and looking at whether B horizon material could form useful growing topsoil etc., was sufficiently tied into the A horizon biology and nutrient cycles, etc. What I am talking about adding is more B horizon type raw materials, which a bunch of studies show can be consolidated into the A horizon more bioactive zone in many cases.

421:

"People knew that leaving the land fallow some years improved its fertility back in biblical times, and going from three-crop plus a year fallow to other things that looked more productive ..."

That's explicitly not what the three field system is about - it's about growing crops that either fix certain elements or take them out of soil.

http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi26.htm
Here's the first explanation I found. Three fields, one fallow. Are they wrong? They say it was widely used starting around the 11th century.

Both Egypt and Babylon used the natural cycle of flooding to irrigate their lands. Babylon faced desertification first, then Egypt.

Babylon did just fine with 10,000 people, or 50,000. It's when they cultivated too many acres with too little river water per acre that they ran into trouble. The guys irrigating with groundwater had bigger problems sooner, of course.

"Would an extra 3 inches of topsoil have prevented the dust bowl, the Ukraine famine, the chinese famines, etc?"

Topsoil didn't create those things, it resulted in losing topsoil.

Yes. So, they mismanaged and lost topsoil. Did you have a point about that?

Topsoil is 6" max, if you're in the right region and in the right geological zone.

?? When I was eight years old my teacher told us that the USA had lost 1/3 of its topsoil, we had gone from an average of 9" in 1600 to 6" in only a few hundred years. We're losing it a lot faster now, but why do you say it's 6" max? Is it that places with more than 6" are the wrong region or wrong geological zone?

You're doing that thing where GMO can solve it all, so you can suggest salting the earth that's used for agriculture with fucking styrofoam (about 1.8 million hectares) which is made out of fucking oil.

You read all that in. I said nothing about GMOs. I did not suggest using styrofoam on a large scale -- we don't have nearly enough of it in our landfills, after all.

But look, the usual model for dirt is you have the A level which is full of organic trash waste material and maybe some clay, and that might help water retention and might help with erosion. (Though live plant ground cover helps more.) Then there's the B level which is dirt which is full of minerals that plants need. The minerals get removed from rocks, in the C level or tiny rocks in the B level.

Topsoil often is valuable, but people have turned it into some sort of religion and a lot of the "facts" they quote about it are things people made up. Erosion is largely a bad thing whether it's level A or level B, although if we depended on minerals from level C then it would make sense to erode level B at about the rate it destroys the underlying rock. If you want to get interested in this stuff then look at it carefully, don't just uncritically accept those factoids.

"We don't yet have an adequate alternative to modern farming"

Yeah, there's plenty.

I even mentioned them:

Cloning Meat

I don't follow you. You want GMO beef or something? Meat from vats has the problem that it's hard to keep it from getting contaminated with whatever can grow with it or into it, so you need vat-grown meat with an immune system, and you might as well throw in a heart so you don't have to pump its blood yourself, and a liver so you don't have to be so careful about what gets into the blood, and a digestive system so you don't have to purify its nutrients, and it's just plain cheaper to raise a cow.

Farming Insects

There could be big possibilities there. Of course we don't have a lot of experience stopping epidemics in farmed insects. It makes sense on a cottage scale where you can easily grow enough earthworms or mealworms in a couple of months to have a nice protein-rich meal. Not clear how to do it profitably, but that will likely come with experience.

If we feed less grain to animals we will have more of it to eat ourselves. That could make a big difference.

422:

/me pops in to check for new Equoid arcana, skims comments, runs screaming back to MetaFilter

423:

At least he didn't run screaming back to 4chan.

424:

But first, you have to raise your game from the banal muddy canal you're trapped in.

Sigh.

Nope Catina, it's you that have to raise your game - you have to actually make coherent sense. You know, logical, reasoned, debate?

If you are unwilling or unable to do so, don't whine when you get called on it. It's not good claiming you are massively intelligent and well informed - any fool can do that; and usually does.

I'd venture that most people here are well educated, many with PhDs if they care to refer to them, and have (or had) professional careers of different sorts, navigating the mire of bullshit that seemingly festers in every sphere. Some of us have even met real geniuses - we know what it looks like. A little humility goes a long way.

425:

Just to be clear: My main point is that I am a depressed and pessimistic person, doubly so for my old space opera dreams. I was stretching for a plausible way for us to solve the ecosystem and other problems necessary for space colonization. I do not believe in the Singularity and I certainly do not believe in the benevolent smiling god version of the Singularity. (Unless the smiling god is StrexCorp--I know Nightvale is popular enough to do live shows in Britain, but maybe it's still too obscure for a lot of you. Creepy, quaint Lovecraftian town in the American desert which is invaded at one point by a totalitarian capitalist Lovecraft organism. Since it's a fantasy, the quaint people eventually win.)

I had to read your response a few times to make sure you were not being hostile. So I concur with some of the criticisms of your communications style. People are lazy and people on the internet doubly so. We usually just look for markers that say hey this person approves of me; this person disapproves, etc. I get that part of the schtick is you are trying to make us think* and have no patience if we don't; so fair play if it's clear those are the ground rules going in.

I cannot stand Stephenson's prose; so if Watts digested any worthwhile ideas for me, good on him, I say.

*Cannot help but picture you as the Robot Chicken Yoda: to make you think, blow your mind it would.

426:

I will confess that I used to be a feminist academic, specializing in history which explicitly includes women and/or treats women and men in symbiosis rather than as separate realms as was the fashion at the beginning of "women's history." I realize that for many of you that makes me the Withywindle whence comes all the social justice blather.

So all the talk of mucus and Irigaray. 20 years ago Irigaray tended to pop up at the margin of American feminist theory courses. I don't know if she is more or less fashionable now. I only have the vague memory that she might be one of the people behind PsychEtPo. You were more likely to read Judith Butler or Donna Haraway. I didn't cotton to the psychoanalytical theorists, but I didn't believe in the men (Freud, etc.) they were criticizing either; so it all left me cold. I never experienced phobias about vaginas or menstrual blood; so the descriptions of male disgust at these seemed very abstract at the time. I have learned since that they do have some purchase at the cultural level, but maybe that's how I ended up a feminist in the first place-- because it already suited my idiosyncratic notions of reality.

I don't have a women's experience of mucus, but I do have a lifelong battle with dysfunctional breathing due to viscous fluid. Sorority has been built on stranger things, I guess.

427:

( @ 393 )
I still call bullshit.
Maybe because I pay no attention to advertising & I don't have a TV.
It may be deliberate social conditioning, but that ias a n other story as they say.
Thanks for the ridiculous-but-true info, though

428:

At this point the humanities type is consigned to the same sack as marketeers, homoeopathy, politicians, and second hand car salesmen.

SPOT ON

See also the references in here to Sokal.
When I was doing teacher-training I ran up against this shit & it really pissed me off, especially since the "educationalists" all seemed to be fake-humanities types.
It's one of the reasons why I am so much in sympathy with Gove (Whatever his other failings) in trying to "reform" education.
Facts are what is needed ... didn't R. A. H. say something about that.

This is not to decry "the humanities" totally - I really appreciate opera ( I've bee in two) ballet & the visual arts & recognise that they play a valuable part of our culture.
But, in the meantime, where did all the bullshit come from?

429:

Topsoil is 6" max, if you're in the right region
Err ... NO.
Some parts of lowland England, topsoil can be 2 feet (60cm) deep, or more ... the give-away is the micro/macro biological community in it, like earthworms & much smaller organisms.

430:

The things I hunt in the dark and the light and the cruel black seas also use said signalling functions.

COULD WE HAVE THAT IN PLAIN ENGLISH PLEASE?

431:

"You're not putting much effort in, are you?"

Rule 1 - do not play other people's games by other people's rules.

Gordian Knot technique.

432:

"Once again:Define Action"

It certainly isn't mouthing off on this blog at length about riddles and what people might mean by their obscure statements. I call that a waste of time

433:

"(Oh, Dirk, if only you knew what's to come)"

I do - different personas for different jobs.

434:

And the soil type. Aeration is critical. In 38 years of composting
all kitchen and garden waste, I have dropped the horizon in my sandy
soil from 6" to 15". It would be trickier on clay. I have seen
horizons as high as 2" below the surface, too. We CAN recover topsoil,
and there were experiments that found that ground moon rock plus
human excrement made adequate topsoil, but the key is recycling the
organic waste WITHOUT polluting it with toxins. And the process is
not easy, quick or cheap.

435:

I'll add mathematician. If it isn't absolutely precise, it's sloppy. Actually, to set the record straight, I am not saying that even the mucoid theory of the universe (as reported) is TOTAL crap, because it is extremely common for a key flash of enlightenment to be hidden in a mountain of bullshit (e.g. Freud). I agree with you that discrimination against (many) men by women and/or a female viewpoint dominated society is a major social harm, and have suffered from it badly myself, but am NOT going to pursue it here!

436:

Actually, as someone who has spent his career supporting research,
from the humanities to hard physics, the sloppiest thinkers are in
physics and medicine. Most of the humanities work is pretty sound,
but traditional physicists don't understand enough about how to
handle that sort of data to follow it - heck, they usually get
confused even by simple statistics!

Now, whether the postmodern sociologists are more cuckoo than the
black hole divers (to take but two examples), or conversely, is an
issue that I will leave until after the second pint.

437:

I know a fair number of experimental physicists who have excellent analytical skills and find the "black hole diver" types a bit embarrassing. They are lucky enough to be in fields where the evidence is still flowing though.

One thing we can probably all agree on is that you can find someone in any field who is willing and able to make an ass of themselves.

438:

Well, I know enough about modern gas turbine engines to know that building one is hard. I also know that this is because the gas temperatures in the combustion chamber and exhaust turbine exceed the melting points of the alloys they're made from, and not because of any femininity in the fluid dynamics!

439:

I can believe that this is what the advertising "industry" wants you to think, but as a male photographer I just see a nice strong contrast with the white/cream product using a colour that doesn't occur in animal bodily fluids or secretions.

440:

Subject more to slope and drainage than anything else, you can get 2' topsoil pretty much anywhere in the "British Isles", Netherlands, Belgium and Channel and Biscay coasts of France (based on archaeology reports as a sampling technique).

441:

Yes, but her second remark (not the first) is right, and it's not just the advertising industry. The 'warmth' scale is almost certainly basic psychology, but the association of blue with cleanliness etc. is almost certainly social conditioning. It was probably caused by the use of a blue tint for 'super-whiteness', leading people down that path. Anyway, it's a fairly new phenomenon
(the past half century).

442:

O.K. How long do you give the current iteration of the USSA to run? Stalin's death - collapse of SovUnion = 1953-1989 = 36 years.
Um.

Paging the ghost of Buckminster Fuller to the white GOSPLAN courtesy phone ...

A big chunk of the problem we've got is that post-1945 the UN -- originally an ad-hoc alliance created to fight fascism -- was repurposed by the USA as the core of an interlocking wall of trade arrangements designed to encircle and exclude the Soviet bloc, much as NATO, SEATO, and similar military alliances were designed to encircle and contain communism. This system has now (a) gone global and (b) succumbed to regulatory capture so that the beneficiaries of this "free trade" zone's rules set the rules. See also TPP, WIPO, private courts to adjudicate lawsuits by corporations against governents for loss of future income due to political decisions, and so on. Hands are tied, and the problem is that they're tied to benefit the short-term (90 day profit/loss accounting) interests of corporate activist shareholders.

America isn't the problem. The USA could vanish from the map tomorrow, and although there would be huge repercussions, the basic structure of the trade/treaty system would still exist and the same pathologies would be evident, taking decades (at a minimum) to work their way out, absent a major adjustment (on the level of a nuclear war).

We are unwilling passengers in an airliner where the pilot has locked the cockpit door and committed suicide, on autopilot set to fly on through the stratosphere towards the southern ocean, fuel gradually running low ...

443:

"You're not putting much effort in, are you?"

Rule 1 - do not play other people's games by other people's rules.

Gordian Knot technique.

It's OK to play other people's games by other people's rules if you want to.

Remember the Pragmatist's Rule:

If it looks like it will be fun, do it.

Until it looks like it will stop being fun. Then quit.

It looks like a surprising fraction of human decisions fit this rule.

444:

Can someone explain why BLUE liquids are important?

In advertising?

It has to show up on TV. If they went with red, it would prompt ugly family scenes: having to have That Conversation with the 6-yo daughter because of an ad, causing dad to cross his legs and whimper, and so on. (Count the cultural hang-ups ...) Green would be suggestive of plant matter or other biomass. Blue doesn't really feature much in our biology (other than in some folks' iris colour) so it's relatively "neutral" in terms of not being overloaded with icky semiotics.

445:

Fundamentally I feel the difference in mindset and approach to the world. ... On the one side we have scientists/engineer. .... On the other we have the humanities.

Totally wrong.

On the one hand, we have the engineers: users of tools, definers of problems and clear-cut solutions.

On the other hand, we have the biologists. Who are dealing with a legacy of three and a half billion years of uncommented spaghetti code.

(Forget the humanities: they're not really relevant except insofar as we get into discussing cultural failure modes that equate engineering with manly virtue -- hey, it gave us better guns and A-bombs and dams -- and biology with messy confusing stuff that bleeds on a monthly basis and won't shut up and do as it's told.)

The thing is, biological systems are typically a messy network of cyclic graphs of equilibrium reactions. Push on one corner and three others balloon out while a fifth shrinks unexpectedly. Fish the north Atlantic cod stocks continuosly and and they self-replenish indefinitely ... until you hit a certain threshold and the stock collapses as if it fell off a cliff, because you drove it over a catastrophe condition you didn't even know about (by gradually reducing the proportion of big, sexually mature adults until their external fertilization strategy -- spawning in schools -- didn't deliver a sufficient density of eggs and sperm to result in a new generation).

Catina is approaching this from a bio perspective. (That's also where the humanities come from: we are, after all, just jumped-up mammals, and our introspection about the human condition is merely a sub-set of mammalian ethnography.) And you repeatedly fail to understand the nature of the field you're fumbling around.

You know the parable of the blind men and the elephant? You've grabbed one of its legs and mistaken it for an umbrella stand.

446:

Can we please stop with the "privileged, white, heterosexual, male, hegemony" unsubstantiated bullshit - it is massively pissing me off. No matter how much you want to rant, I damn well know I'm not privileged

Oy: That's your classic statement of privilege.

Have you ever tried to take time out from your career to have a baby, or been taken aside and disciplined in the workplace for not wearing makeup and heels? Been afraid to go to a pub/other public social venue alone, for fear of mugging/predation?

The point about privilege is that if you've got it you don't notice it. It's like the old adage about life being a shit sandwich: the more bread you've got, the less shit you need to eat. (In this analogy, privilege is bread.)

447:

OGH has fans who love him here - he's probably not minded to dislike any of us, ever-so-much how we irk him.

Actually, we periodically get drive-through idiots and, occasionally, trolls. The regular commenter culture is not hospitable to them so they're rarer these days, but when they show up I'm not averse to spanking them.

But the main rule is: feel free to argue or disagree, but engage in good faith. (Don't be contemptuous or rude. Other people may be wrong, but yelling at them seldom works.)

448:

Did someone issue a red card while I was asleep?

If so: it's rescinded.

449:

It's used to describe people who, to choose a random example, repeatedly and stridently voice unconventional views on the semiotics of mucus in forums where this is not ordinary behaviour.

Actually, I consider the above to be amusing, informative, educational, and interesting behaviour that ought by rights to shake up the discussion culture here. Of course you may differ, if you're part of the consensus, but I find the Analog-reading-two-fisted-engineering-with-slide-rules culture many of the comment threads degenerate into deeply tiresome and irritating.

450:

See also the references in here to Sokal.

While Sokal was making a valid point, note also the increasing frequency with which "hard sciences" papers are being withdrawn these days due to either falsified data (esp. in commercially sensitive cutting-edge biotech -- e.g. pluripotent stem cell research) or simply because some sort of analysis was botched (FTL neutrinos, anyone?).

The boot fits both feet.

451:

But, in the meantime, where did all the bullshit come from?

The publish-or-perish culture in academia has something to do with it. Get an idea that would fit in a 140 character tweet, bulk it up to a 1400 word paper, turn it into a 14,000 word monograph in a book: Result!

Also note the 800% increase in the cost of tuition fees over the past 30 years in the USA (it's not much lower in the UK, for that matter), the stagnation of academic salaries in relation to the huge efflorescence of university admin jobs with high pay and management status attached, the removal of tenure and lack of job security for academics ...

Bullshit is basically a defense mechanism for the insecure, and if you want to work out why they feel insecure you could do worse than examine the commercial environment in which higher education is delivered these days.

452:

using a colour that doesn't occur in animal bodily fluids or secretions.

Bingo.

Now ask yourself, why is this constraint important to the people holding the purse strings for the marketing budget?

453:

The difference between biology and engineering in this respect is how opaque biology is.

It's not the large code base or how much documentation there is, it's not the lack of human designer making it impossible to understand the system by reasoning about how you would have done it, it's not even the use of brownian motion and field gradients as the main controls.

It's that you can't bloody debug it. I can take pretty much any software written in the history of mankind, even hardware with the right microscopes, and I can get a complete description of the state of the system every instant it's running.

That amount of information makes perfection... well, visible if not achievable. It attracts people who like those clean lines and shiny mathematically precise electron locations.

Biology, you can kinda look at an entire thing all at once in a big blur. And you'll destroy everything to do it so you only get one chance.

Unstable equilibrium points and chaotic systems are interesting, from an engineering point of view, they're not inherently unsolvable with information. The lack of information is the key difference for me.

To bring this back to the conversation, discussing the finer points of soil creation is really going to be missing the point to a biologist. Even if we knew how to do it there's no way to know we know. An engineer can believe themselves in possession of the full facts and see the path to a goal. A biologist will always believe they have missed something, potentially catastrophic, and they're usually right. This is experience.

At the end of the day pointing out specific facts about making soil doesn't disprove "we can't make it" because you can't show you have all the facts. You go away and make some and terraform a sterile box or go home.

454:

"Been afraid to go to a pub/other public social venue alone, for fear of mugging/predation?"

Yes. So have most males I would guess, at some point in their lives. Most violence in public places happens to young males.

455:

We are unwilling passengers in an airliner where the pilot has locked the cockpit door and committed suicide, on autopilot set to fly on through the stratosphere towards the southern ocean, fuel gradually running low ...

In third grade (third year of early school) they taught us about volcanoes. The teacher said that on Mount Aetna there are farmers who stay on their farms generation after generation, knowing that sooner or later the volcano will erupt and kill them all. But they stay. I think we were all appalled. The farmers knew that their farms would be destroyed and all their children, or grandchildren, or somebody -- would be killed. But they kept doing it.

But of course really, if you have four children only one lucky son gets the farm and the others have to go elsewhere. Maybe one can marry somebody who will inherit another farm on the mountain. Everybody else has to leave and take their chances in the world.

And owning a farm on incredibly rich volcanic soil is not so bad compared to most of the alternatives.

We're all like that, except for the ones who aren't. If you think there will be a big nuclear war, it's obvious what to do. Move to the southern hemisphere. (There won't be as many bombs there, so less global fallout.) Take up subsistence farming. (It's what you'll be doing after the bombing, so you might as well lay claim to land now and get good at it.) Learn the local language, integrate yourself into the local community of extremely-poor subsistence farmers, and wait. You will not have internet service and you will not be part of this conversation. All of us are people who didn't do that.

When I was in college I decided there *might* be a major nuclear war in my lifetime. I wasn't ready to be a subsistence farmer, so I compromised. I promised myself I wouldn't spend more than one year of my life in Washington, DC. Chances were there would not be a war while I was there. Each time I went to the Smithsonian museum or something, I kept count.

Now I've lived more than 10 years less than 50 miles from the Pentagon. My promise was just not practical.

It likely wouldn't have worked. I had a dream. I was walking with my sheep and my sheepdogs somewhere in the southern part of south america. I was worried that the sheep were overgrazing, but if the flock was too small I'd have other problems. And then a squad of men walk up in ragged uniforms. Twelve of them, two of them have guns and the others machetes or spears. The leader tells me in spanish they are here to obtain my sheep. I smile and suggest they take just one sheep a year, that I will be more valuable to them as a sustainable recourse. But they have to take them now to get by, they'll preoccupy themselves about the future later. I ask him what I should do without my sheep. He says if I wish they will remove me from my disgrace now. And I wake up.

To have a good chance at surviving a big crisis you must be too insignificant to persecute. But who can be that insignificant and live?

It's hard enough to find an ecological niche (economic niche?) you can live in. Finding one that gives you a special edge during a depopulation event is even harder.

So we hope it won't happen while we're stuck, and hope our children can do better somehow. It makes sense to have more children to increase the chance some of them survive, but that makes it harder to provide for them. How can they get jobs without college?

Thinking about plausible catastrophes that bring down the whole system gives a certain feeling of dread, but also a sense of release. The rewards of daydreaming about the possibility are great enough that people do it a lot.

It relieves the tedium.

456:

"Been afraid to go to a pub/other public social venue alone, for fear of mugging/predation?"

Yes. So have most males I would guess, at some point in their lives. Most violence in public places happens to young males.

But most of the places I'm in particular danger of violence are places I don't need to go.

Also, if I complain about it, that makes me look weak and whiny. People won't respect me for complaining, they will be less likely to pay attention to what I have to say.

People are far more likely to complain that other people have more privileges, when it works for them. When other people agree that they score points that way.

So, like, if you are a man who complains that richer men can have more toys, that's just admitting that you are not very competent at one of the important games in life, and at best people will be embarrassed for you.

Unless you have the excuse that you are a member of a group that gets discriminated against. If it's because people treat everybody in your group unfairly and not because of your own choices, then you get conversation points for your suffering. At least among your own tribe, and among liberals.

457:

"But most of the places I'm in particular danger of violence are places I don't need to go."

Needs and wants are mostly entirely different things

458:

To bring this back to the conversation, discussing the finer points of soil creation is really going to be missing the point to a biologist. Even if we knew how to do it there's no way to know we know. An engineer can believe themselves in possession of the full facts and see the path to a goal. A biologist will always believe they have missed something, potentially catastrophic, and they're usually right. This is experience.

Yes. So, what do we actually know about soil? If you dig a hole and you look at some dark brown dirt 2 inches from the top, and some other dark brown dirt that's 3 feet from the top, how do you decide whether the bottom part is topsoil?

If somebody believes that he's made some topsoil, how do you decide that he has not?

At the end of the day pointing out specific facts about making soil doesn't disprove "we can't make it" because you can't show you have all the facts. You go away and make some and terraform a sterile box or go home.

When there's no way to tell whether you meet the criteria or not, where's the science?

It's obvious we don't want too much soil erosion. It's been going on forever, but we don't want too much. It's obvious that soil which drains well grows crops more profitably than soil which doesn't, on average. Soil that plants have grown well in for thousands of years will have more old plant debris in it than soil that they have not, on average.

As we get away from the obvious stuff to things that are slightly less obvious, it turns into factoids that a lot of people have believed for a long time. How right are they? I dunno. Some of it not so much. But it's easy to quote links to all those factoids where people who sound reputable say them over again.

What does topsoil do that we think is good? Get that defined, and then you can look at "natural" topsoil and topsoil that people think they have created, and see which works better. You can't tell how well the new topsoil does in the long run, and you can't tell how well the old topsoil did in the long run unless you can measure the details of what happened over a long time.

At the end of the day pointing out specific facts about making soil doesn't disprove "we can't make it" because you can't show you have all the facts.

I see this reasoning so much, and I wonder where it came from. We start out with a question we don't know the answer to. Somebody asserts an answer. Somebody else asserts a different answer. And then the clinching argument is "You can't prove the first answer is wrong, because there's no way to tell. Therefore the first answer is right and the second answer is wrong."

This might be a humanities thing. It isn't supposed to be a biology thing.

459:

I think it would be fair to say that the regulars here regard drive-bys as a form of chew toy?