Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thoughts From Deep Time

The future, and I'm not talking about 2060 or 2200, I'm talking capital-F Future on scales of hundreds of millions of years, is going to involve some serious backpacking problems.

The Sun is not eternal.  It's a spherical fusion reactor with a fixed amount of fuel, that will eventually run out, and a long, long time before that happens, it's going to get hot out here.  In about one billion years, Earth will have left the habitable zone entirely (and that's assuming we can do something about the carbon cycle), and we'll have to either give up on the Earth entirely, or move it.

To move the Earth, you can't touch it.  Putting, say, a giant ion drive on the equator and turning it on for a few minutes at dawn every morning would wreak total havoc, even with an engine way too weak to be worth anything.  So you need a tug boat-- something massive, but not something with an atomosphere that could get chopped up running a big rocket engine day in, day out, and preferably something that wouldn't be creepy to look up at every night...

Oh hello there, moon.

Now, rocket fuel.  You need, um, LOTS.  So much that the whole thing's a non-starter unless you could somehow do direct mass-energy conversion on the moon rock itself.  Good thing it's the year 500 million AD, because antimatter flippers come in twelve packs down at the corner shop.  (Halloween is hell lately.)

So you build a massive antimatter engine right into the regolith.  Say it with me, that's no moon, it's a space station.  Rocket ship.  Tugboat.  Whatever.  This will probably not be the best thing in the world for tides, so it's not totally without side effects, but it's better than everyone having to crank the AC up to "thermodynamic atrocity".

With the tugboat moon, we can pretty much outlast the sun's pre-red giant temper tantrums, and in the off season between Earth draggings, maybe we can pull Venus out to someplace respectable where we can land without special hell planet gear.  Heck, let's put all the rocky planets in the habitable zone.  The moon is now our own private planet magnet.

That is, assuming the sun lasts that long.

As I picture our distant future counterparts rearranging the rocky planets in the solar system with a moon with a rocket engine strapped to it, (presumably, occasionally feeding it asteroids and dwarf planets, sorry Pluto) I start to seriously doubt this whole Dyson Sphere business, where presumably some advanced alien race would have already done this: build a 1-AU radius sphere around a star, soaking up all the radiation and expelling waste heat.  Trouble is, this is a massive undertaking, requiring entire stars getting melted down for slag to build into the structure.

And if you're melting down stars to build one, why the heck would you use one as your primary reactor?  The sun is a massive hydrogen reserve with tremendous amounts of fusion energy on tap, and you're a super-advanced technological race that can demolish stars if you need to, and you're going to use it like the boiler in a steam engine?

No, my guess is that, at some point, civilizations reach a crossroads, where they can either keep their home star around for sentimental reasons, or they can have it undergo a controlled demolition and harvest the mass-energy directly.

This of course is little help to SETI, which is highly unlikely to catch middle-aged yellow dwarf stars inexplicably blinking out of existence with all the fanfare of an apartment complex demolition.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Video is Not Killing the Internet.

One thing that really stuns me is how often it gets said that video is killing the internet, with the justification for this claim being that it's now a much larger fraction of the bandwidth than "anything else".

It's a much larger bandwidth, BECAUSE IT IS LARGER.

If I spend an hour reading text on the web, it's unlikely that I will use up more than perhaps 100k of bandwidth. If I spend that same hour watching video, 100M is more like it. If something takes a thousand times more bandwidth to consume, it would have to take up a tenth of a percent of the time to be taking up exactly as much bandwidth.

If it were taking up 90% of the bandwidth, that's less than one percent of people's online activity. A projection from Wired a ways back showed web use decreasing to a "depressing" 23% Oh yeah. Video is slaughtering the text internet alright.

It's a wonder you're reading this at all.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Superheroes Everywhere

One thing I've been noticing is that I'm friends with a lot of people I really have to classify as Some Kind of Superhero.

I feel, on a daily basis, that I must have somehow landed myself in the middle of one of those circles of friends you read about in the history books as being "the masterminds behind the Enlightenment" or "the Founding Fathers of the United States". And increasingly, I think perhaps I am. But that's not what's amazing.


In fact, it's happening hundreds, thousands of times, in different sectors and in different arenas as distances evaporate. Core teams are self-assembling into groups of visionaries who will change the way the world works, from one viewpoint. But instead of defining a whole age for the whole of "civilized" mankind, each one will be hammering away at some aspect of the whole.

Look around you. You're probably surrounded by superheroes too.


Very impressive showing by Ubuntu on the basic scientific use front. Octave is absolutely delicious in that you can just bloody do things. I *might* drop Scilab but Octave isn't quite so shiny on my Win7 lappy.

And of course, Scilab has an Ubuntu release that runs pretty well (once you get OpenGL working, of course.)

Don't get me wrong, there's still a small stack of stuff that I still can't get working under Ubuntu, but that stack is SHRINKING. And it's small enough now that I DON'T need Windows for everyday work.

Also, Ubuntu is totally rocking my sound card already. Bravo, Open Source, bravo.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wait, Really?

That crazy guy who was going to launch inflatable space stations into orbit has two modules the size of a dorm room each already up? And Boeing is co-planning their manned space flight to have his much-larger future modules as a destination?

Holy cow, dude.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Explosion of the Possible

There are now so many things which have become possible so recently that only a very tiny fraction of them actually get done. It's true for all of us, which is one reason we all feel so paralyzed so often by the constant flood of new and amazing things that everyone else around the world is already doing.

However, the infinity of that which is undone easily trumps the infinity of that which is done.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Post-Privacy Humanity? Not on their terms.

So my thoughts on privacy have gone back and forth a lot recently and I've decided one thing for sure:

"Post Privacy" can not be allowed to happen by means of grinning "social media experts" pinning our lives up on their board next to their ads.

Post Privacy is fine in concept, but in practice it needs to be paired with a massive advocacy push to make sure of one thing: that the experts, politicians, lawyers, corporate shills, and robber barons get as little or LESS privacy than any of us. And the problem with the way things are happening now is that it works the opposite way. The above types buy proprietary walled-garden networking solutions that let them have all of their conversations away from prying eyes while the rest of us buy our social networking with the data itself. And with our own personal experiences and our data so pivotal and precious, and with server space and time so cheap, it's a raw deal.

I don't think we can really afford to give our data so willingly in the long run. We need both to be spreading our information peer-to-peer rather than through a hub owned by marketing jackasses, and to be undermining the privacy of those who have any significant amount of power.

Because that should be the tradeoff. Privacy or Power. Nobody should have both. Or neither.