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 UK Prime Minister talks, 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)