Monday, 10 April 2017

Relax, James Burke says everything will turn out fine -- if humanity can manage the introduction of the Nano Fabricator

"These major problems ... will be utterly irrelevant with 50 years" - James Burke

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is finally getting the attention it deserves as the best history podcast. His other series Common Sense is also good for provocative political comment. A recent episode featured legendary BBC mind blower James Burke, really I think just to get Burke's take on Brexit and Trump. Burke talks about using AI gestalts for everyday voting, dereliction of the press, and his new Connections app.

But his response to a question about oncoming doom has stuck with me and I've tried to use it to lighten up every gloomy pub conversation since.

About 33 mins in responding to a question about climate change denial

"These major problems of .. things like climate change and pollution and over population and so on
these will be utterly irrelevant with 50 years and yet we are busting a gut in some cases doing serious harm socially and economically to our societies in order to solve these problems when the problems will be gone in 50 years time when the Nano Fabricator arrives and blows them all away.... and everything else in the present day economy"

Dan Carlin responds somewhat skeptically that he'd heard his uncle predict the end of cancer, only to die of cancer, but Burke thinks is possible and is worth researching right now.

"If the United States decided to run a project with all the intensity and involvement that it ran the Apollo project on bringing the Nano Fabricator into existence sooner than 50s years.. putting money into nano technological resource then we would know fairly rapidly if it is going to happen, and if it is we could start planning socially for what we'll do when it turns up.. because it's going to cause, like all technological advance, massive social ripples....What do we do when the Nano Fabricator gives you everything you need using dirt air and water and a minor amount of other things that most people can get hold of for nothing?"

He talks about this here on New Mexico in Focus, with correspondent Gwyneth Doland
at 17.17

And again on Eddie Mair's droll PM show on Radio 4

and this article by James Evans in the New Statesmen

When I try and explain this optimistic future
(in the pub)
the next thing mentioned, with regard to the Nano Fabricator is this..

Crazy eh? that'll never happen

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Fusion Reactors are now a thing - and they will fit in a van apparently

Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration experiment (PFRC-2) magnetic confinement fusion team


is bench testing a fusion engine which works. It's small, only a few metres in length and apparently cannot be scaled up but it sounds like you could fit it in typical American van.


It runs on Helium 3. I'm not sure if that counts as unleaded. I would imagine so.
Cleaner than the Tocamak reactors being developed at huge cost in France and I'm sure cleaner than diesel.
I certainly trust Princeton on mileage more than Volkswagen right now.

Here is the engaging Dr Steph from Princeton Satellite Systems talking in full about her fusion rocket. The fusion specifics start at about 6.48.

You might enjoy how they spend about 5 seconds on the real world implications of actual fusion power on Earth...

And then 15 minutes  explaining how to on strap it to a space probe and send it to Pluto

Colour shade on electromagnetic spectrum indicates proximity to genuine Mad Science


​​This post is a horrifyingly dumbed down version of this post by Zain Husain

PintofScience is a thing
I'm more Pint than Science myself but I like to be supportive

Princeton are obviously awesome (is that scientific?)

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Think Big for Brexit Deal : UK, Ukraine, Turkey and Libya could be the EU's 'Interface States'

One way out of the morass of Brexit talks and Article 50 is to call the bluff of the Europeans who promote the big vision of their transnational project. The UK, to EU eyes, is currently an inward looking organisation reducing the great problems of the world to local issues from an earlier age.

We could counter that one of the reasons UK has lost interest in the EU project is that the EU has been sidelining a few issues on it's borders recently.  Ukraine to the east and Libya to the south are both gripped by civil wars, both of which the EU (including the UK) has some responsibility for igniting.  On Europe's south east border economically booming Turkey is sliding into authoritarianism.

Ukraine and Turkey have both been offered the carrot of EU membership in the past in a frankly unrealistic and disingenuous manner which did nothing really but cause them further internal turmoil.

The Prime Minister talks, inspirationally, of the positives for Europe which could come from a good Brexit deal. The future of the world economy is obviously that of large distinct trading blocks and we have to ensure relations between these blocks are not harmed by the encroaching isolationist sentiment.

Perhaps we could offer a blanket solution to the EU's problem border states with other trading blocs which would also invigorate world trade and resolve Brexit?

UK, Ukraine, Turkey and Libya could be defined as 'Interface States'. 

'Interface States' would have

  • Hybrid of local/EU trade rules (as the UK and Turkey currently have anyway) featuring favourable trade tarrifs with EU, to be particularly applied to transit goods coming in from outside the EU from larger trading blocs.
  • The option of using the Euro. Currency policy such as interest rates would still be controlled by the ECB and it would be made clear to all that no bail out would ever be offered to states outside the EU. Large parts of Africa already have their own currencies pegged to the Euro and there are ten nations currently using the US dollar without any control or influence on US monetary policy.
  • By default no free movement of Labour - which has been the major stumbling bloc for integration with UK and Turkey and would be with Libya and North Africa. This could codify rules to protect EU frontiers.

Ukraine would be the interface with Russian bloc, and could include a wider trade deal initially more favourable to Belarus and Georgia than Russia, with an inducement to Russia for further progress if the current semi-Cold War improves. (This would at least provide some positive way out of the current impasse with Putin).

Turkey would be the interface state with the Middle East - as it effectively is at the moment but without the formal status and guarantees it probably needs to work effectively long term.

Libya, or perhaps in the short term Tunisia, would be the interface state with Africa, A semi-Eurozone in North Africa could only be good for local stabilization and might encourage economic migrants to trade and proper instead of risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

UK would obviously be the Interface state with North America and the Anglozone and the Commonwealth. (It wouldn't have to adopt the Euro).

We could go farther.

Cuba could be offered Interface State status to become EU's favoured partner in Central/South America, which would be a huge diplomatic gain for the EU in that area.
US objections would disappear as this inevitably improved Cuba's internal politics.

A comprehensive oil/gas deal in the South Atlantic could be offered if the Falklands became the EU's Interface State with South America. If the Falklands retained British sovereignty and security guarantees but adopted the Euro and in every other economic respect became a controlled conduit for EU trade how could that be a bad thing economically and politically all round?

This could be applied further as well, out beyond the EU.

By sidelining national politics completely Taiwan could be the Interface State between North America, Japan and China, leading to a wider solution which would lesson tensions in the area.

Afghanistan or even Kashmir could be declared Interface States between South Asia and China, allowing an influx of trade and investment which would undermine the political problems.

To codify this Interface States could even be given their own trading organisation and forum at the UN.

I've heard this idea promoted before as 'Britain as the bridge to the Americas' but it seemed an ambitious idea wrapped in British self interest. We should avoid being portrayed as little Englanders, recover the internationalism of our forefathers and be prepared to roll this idea out on a global scale - with the help of the Europeans.

I'm sure  cynical post Brexit Europeans will be suspicious of this, thinking perhaps in terms of Perfidious Albion

(I voted Remain by the way and consider myself a committed European)

but the message endlessly disappointed Europeans need to learn is on the front page of every self improvement book -

"Learn to accept the situation the way it is"

The bloody vote happened.
Most people really don't like the result.
Let's get on and make the best of it.

If the Interface States idea seems hopelessly impractical and optimistic consider the state of Ireland after Brexit. With no hard border to the Republic in the south, Northern Ireland is likely to become a  test case 'Interface State' between the EU/UK whatever happens.

And in any case I think right now the world needs all the optimism it can get.

The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, 13 September 1782. By John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The breathtaking, treasonous, self interest of the US Republican Party is probably unique in world history

You have to admire the Russian operation of 2016 - which perhaps in the long term has fatally damaged faith in both U.S. political parties,
and Wikileaks,
and the concept of truth itself.

But to achieve this it has had the help of what is perhaps a uniquely dedicated political institution, the Republican Party, an organisation which historically has risen above petty concerns like the good of its own country and citizens to embrace naked self interest in a way I don't think I've ever seen in any other historic example anywhere in the world.

I was shocked by the House Intelligence hearing into Russian hacking hearing a few days ago. I shouldn't have been.

Despite broad consensus of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Republican Trey Gowdy only wants to prosecute those 'leakers' trying to expose the extent of the conspiracy. Even the Russians must be embarrassed to watch this.

Treason is harsh dirty word not really used in UK politics since the Elizabethan era - but it seems inadequate now to describe the acts of politicians quite prepared to cover up and even encourage malign foreign influence if it helps them prosper politically. It is almost pantomime villain territory and would  be difficult to believe had not the Republican party been quite capable of similar in two previous historical examples.

In 1968 Republicans working behind the scenes sabotaged the Paris Peace talks to ensure the Democratic government at the time did not get credit for ending the Vietnam War. The war by then had already killed 30,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese.Thanks to Richard Nixon's successful electioneering tactics the Vietnam War would go on until the disastrous collapse in 1975.

In similar fashion - it is alleged (by many) - that Republicans prolonged the Iranian hostage crisis in 1981, again to ensure a Republican victory in the election of 1980.
 "Allegations that the Reagan administration negotiated a delay in the release of the hostages until after the 1980 presidential election have been numerous but unproven. Gary Sick, principal White House aide for Iran and the Persian Gulf on the Carter administration’s National Security Council, claimed in his book October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan that CIA Director William Casey and possibly Vice President George H. W. Bush went to Paris to negotiate such a delay. Many others have made the same allegations."

We could perhaps add the Southern Strategy to this. Though it does not include the collusion of a foreign power it does indicate the Republicans willingness to undermine social and racial cohesion within their own nation if it suits their political agenda.

And don't think that sacred constitution is safe either. More recently the Republicans, who routinely wave around the United States constitution as if it were personally handed to them from Mount Sinai,  have also sought to directly undermine that supremely sacred document to their own political ends. The Founding Fathers enshrined within the constitution checks and balances to moderate the influence of the Presidency, such as the Congress (the lower chamber) and the Senate (upper chamber) and the creation of a independent Supreme Court. Membership of the Supreme Court is for life and it is with the power of a president to replace Supreme Court members if one should pass away.
Or it was.
Until 2016, when a President elected with a substantial majority in 2012 was blocked from appointing his own choice of Supreme Court judge by Republican Congress, an act which directly undermines the obvious written intent of the US constitution.

It would seem, for the purposes of the Supreme Court at least, the United States is already a one party state.

Republicans are enabled in this by the other party, the Democrats, who have seemingly fallen off their high horse so many times now they have serious concussion. "We go high, they go low" might be a noble policy when dealing with normal political opponent but when dealing with an opposition quite happy to even collude with a hostile foreign  power and cover it up, ongoing Democratic ineptitude and weakness must hover around treason itself.

I'm not being naive about my own country. The Conservatives have rigged at least one UK election  and members of the Labour Party and the Unions that backed them in the 1970s have long been suspected to be under Russian influence. Perhaps Nazi influence on British society in the 1930s or German influence on the monarchy before that could also be cited as examples of recent political treachery in the UK.

But these are individuals, not an entire organisation with an established record of doing similar. There is nothing, I think historically in any nation which compares with the naked greed for power AT ANY COST which can be seen in the Republican Party right now. I'm sure in future they will defend themselves by hiding behind the breathtaking incompetence of the current occupant of the White House, but this is a much bigger issue than one man. He is a bumbling opportunist who was presented with the opportunity to become the most powerful man on Earth - can we really blame him for taking that opportunity?

The ones who will ultimately carry the can for this are the ones who enabled his rise - and somehow future historians will have to explain how they chose to do this at the expense of the country they swore an oath to protect.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Netflix IRONFIST is not bad (but you should be watching LEGION)

Netflix's new Marvel series, IRONFIST, is getting a critical pounding. Don't believe the hype. It won't win any awards but it's far from the worst superhero show on tv.

Confession - I've read the comics.

As is, Danny Rand is a long way from the most original comics character of all time. A clumsy amalgam of Bruce Wayne and the 'lost in ShangriLa' legend used for The Shadow and more recently Dr Strange, there is little new about him beyond the elevation of a martial arts concept 'chi', into a full blown super power, the IronFist. He's a bit dull, and obviously in the long lead up to THE DEFENDERS, you can see why Netflix chose to get to Danny Rand last after Matt Murdock, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

That said, after his rehabilitation in 'Heroes For Hire' team up comics, where Rand and Luke Cage setup a mercenary superhero team, some talented comics writers have had a crack at the character over the years and by concentrating less on the Shadow/Shangri-La/Dr Strange/Martial Arts yawn background and more on the Rand family saga, and interaction with other (better) characters like Colleen Wing and Luke Cage, he now has his own identity.

They've obviously tried to go some way with this in the new Netflix series with, I think (up to Ep 2 anyway) some level of success. It's a fairly pedestrian version of something like BILLIONS with some fairly likable characters that might grown on you. This series probably only exists to setup Danny's friendship with Luke Cage - it not is not meant to be the definitive statement in any way on Marvel martial arts characters. Yes it does have a white western guy teaching martial arts to an American Asian, but it's not like the villain is a fiendish Mandarin supervillian with a stringy mustache and long fingernails*

IRONFIST is definitely a notch below in every department DAREDEVIL, LUKE CAGE  and especially JESSICA JONES but
trust me
it's a hell of a lot better than MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD. Perhaps that's the main issue with IRONFIST, it's Netflix expectation. Their standard level of product is so good the merely mediocre looks terrible in comparison.

Mainstream tv critics who've embarrassed themselves over admitting liking the other Marvel Netflix shows are particularly laying into this one for a variety of reasons and should really get over themselves. DAREDEVIL  is good but seriously overrated for me - sliding heavily into repetition and wasting great acting talent. LUKE CAGE starts magnificently before running into blaxploitation parody. Only JESSICA JONES really sustains itself until the end of the run.
Those looking to punch IRONFIST for not being on the same supposed level as DAREDEVIL should be looking at FX's breathtaking LEGION, which quite frankly is making them all look like children's tv.

*The premier martial artist in Marvel's universe of superheroes is of course full blown, 100% Chinese Shang-Chi, who has no super powers beyond being THE Marvel Master of Kung Fu - which keeps him surprisingly competitive in a world of genuine gods and monsters.

Shang-Chi, a son of Hu'nan province, will initially have little in the way of racial complication for his screen depiction unless we get as far as his parentage, at which point the racial correctness movement will no doubt go into meltdown. For the most part the character is a close analog of Bruce Lee's character from ENTER THE DRAGON, but Shang-Chi's father is no less than the arch-devil of racially insensitive western depictions - the Fiendish Fu Manchu!

Tilda Swinton was the best thing about DR STRANGE.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Beyond The Wall of Sleep 4

Finalising the war on insomnia, from 6 hours sleep a night to 8 hours a night

In previous blogs on this subject I've explained that I used to be a very bad sleeper going back to childhood (as were my parents). When I say bad sleep in childhood I mean I grew up living above a pub  in the 1970s - so smoke, noise, overworked parent. Sleep was always a precious thing to be grabbed at, which made it all the more stressful later when I couldn't get it for whatever reason.

And over the last decade I've managed to overcome this with the aid of audiobooks and personal media players (thank you Steve Jobs) to get a regular 6 hours per night. This is a big personal achievement as I'm really Mr Hyde when tired.

An updare earlier posts is due as I have been refining this method. Lately I've been getting occasional 7 hours a night over the last week I've had two instances where I've gone right into 8 hours, smashing personal records.

Should say I'm about 50 years old, and track my sleep using a fitness tracker (Jawbone UP3).

What has made the difference?

Light exercise
Light exercise rather than heavy exercise - heavy exercise, like walking more than 10 miles in a day, will sure knock you out easily when your head hits the pillow, but that later sleep (where I am now picking up the time) will be affected by painful muscles. You might sleep better following nights but it is not guaranteed.
So light exercise, about an hour before bedtime, like a walk in the fresh air for 20 mins or so.

Later Sleep
my sleep 10pm-3pm remains as before. The difference now is I'm sleeping in much later than before. Part of this is recognising that sleep does come in two parts
with an intermission. And when you reach that horrible 'hour of the wolf ' in the middle the last thing you should do is lie there in bed. Get up, do ablutions in semi illumination and eat something. Toast or banana works for me.

Coffee builds up in the system
Not had caffeine (other than tea) for nearly two weeks

Change of listening material
In earlier posts I described how listening to audiobooks and podcasts were very effective in not only kicking off sleep but sustaining it long after you might otherwise have woken up. The more sensitive fitness tracker I had (Jawbone UP3) recorded how I would often kick into REM sleep at stages of the night when I new I'd woken and started up an audio book. I said some are better then others and this may be a personal thing.. I find Lorelei King's voice incredibly soothing to sleep to. Her voice on the BBC adaptation of Pattern Recognition and several other William Gibson sources make her No1 audio source for me.

This 'friendly voice to fall asleep to' phenomena would of course be hugely magnified if it were a close family member. I have suggested to grand parents that I know that they record their favourite poems or short stories for their family for this reason.

Refresh the listening material
The audio input must remain somewhat interesting and fresh - if you are are bored with listening, the mind (subconscious?) gets disengaged, wanders and insomnia is allowed back in. So you ideally need a regular source of audio input.
Radio! I can hear you say and many use this to fall asleep to - but the nature of live radio is that you cannot rely on the broadcast. A sudden news feature with harsh audio can really wreck your sleep over the night. I can remember being woken by the news of Princess Diana's death - that was rough - and Radio 5Live were nice enough to broadcast the news of Fay Wray's death with audio of her famous scream in King Kong.

Best example of this is the BBC Radio4 Today Show (6am -9am) which you might regularly find yourself dozing to in it's quiet moments until - usually American politics - jerks you into reality with all the gentle subtly of the electric chair at San Quentin.

Ideally you would have a regularly updated audio, perhaps with the gentle well spoken stars of the Today Show  which runs for hours on semi interesting subjects but without live broadcast interruptions or irritating trailers.

Ladies and Gentlemen - let me introduce you to The Economist Audio Edition
this is the entire magazine, every week recorded onto audio by familiar R4 news announcers. Approximately 8 fresh hours of audio every week. You might be thinking "Oh god - The Economist. That would be dull. I couldn't listen to that" - well, remember this isn't to consciously get you listening, its to make you fall asleep, and I personally find the mix here is right on the edge of engaging and ZZZZzzzz which is just enough to engage the troublesome demons in the mind and stop them from causing trouble in the conscious.

As a bonus parts of The Economist, particularly the Science and Technology, really is worth listening to (hi The Economist!) and you may find yourself listening to particular bits again during the day.

After 3am
I've found that regardless of the subject, if I find it vaguely interesting and I've not heard it before 15 mins controlled by timer on my media device (still an Ipod Classic) will knock me right to sleep after 10 in the evenings. 30 mins will knock me right to sleep after the 3am Hour of the Wolf intermission (+ banana) and here is the latest finding.. if I wake 5-6ish again as normal if I then let the media device run without a timer and start to doze the next time I wake it will be daylight outside, which I have to say personally speaking is INCREDIBLE way to greet the day after 40 years of insomnia.

And here is the interesting thing
 - If I use a timer at this 5-8am doze time I will awake immediately after the timer stops the audio.
If I let the audio run without setting the timer I sleep on about 1+ hour later. The audio actually prolongs the snooze.
Some part of the subconscious which ordinarily is getting ready for the start up into conscious mode seems to get pre-occupied, delaying the wakeup. Is it actually distracted with audio topics - or more likely cataloging human conversation? I don't know - I have varied awareness of what is being said and often get great REM sleep (as confirmed by my sleep tracker).

It;s possible this is all very personal to me - I've been told I'm naturally a great listener and it it has become a central part of my business
but I now know of at least two of my friends who control audio in this way to prolong sleep,

Dreamlands explorers kit
fitness tracker (Jawbone UP3)
Media player (Ipod classic or old smartphone with sleep timer app)
Eye shades
earphones (best for comfort sleeping after 3am Hour of the Wolf intermission)
small speakers around bed (best for kicking off sleep initially and later morning snoozing)
Economist subscription

for snacks -

Of course you may have a partner which objects to all this.  Or they may find your new refreshed self an improvement in terms of moods and life quality. If not there is always separate beds, which might liven the sex up as well!

The downside of exposing your subconscious to this regularly is that possibly you find yourself heavily heavily immersed in current events and find yourself for example, on holiday volunteering to help a foreign political campaign.

Other wierd sleep notes
For some reason dieting often has me awake early in very low emotional states, to the extent that I often I cry or scream myself awake.
I cut down on the dieting.
It stopped :-)

Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901)