Author Archives: Rand Simberg

Nuevo Colorado

Continuing our tour of the six new Californias proposed by Tim Draper, this new state would be the only one with no Pacific coastline. Nonetheless, it has tremendous potential that is currently being hamstrung by Sacramento (or rather, the coastal voters who dominate the legislature). It would have a population of a little over four million, equivalent to Kentucky, and about a million fewer than Colorado. But as I’ll explain, its red depiction on the map below is appropriate, because it could be viewed as another Colorado in the making, except one only a couple-hour drive from the ocean.

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The New State Of Silicon Valley

Continuing my series (I now have four states up at Ricochet), the next state is Silicon Valley.

Unlike North California, Silicon Valley would be the new state with the most geographically misleading name. Shown in yellow on the map, it would encompass the current Silicon Valley in Santa Clara County, but it would also include all else on that peninsula, including San Francisco, and the East Bay all the way up to Oakland and Berkeley in Alameda County and the bedroom communities of Contra Costa County, all of which is quite densely populated. And beyond that, it would also extend south, all the way down into the Big Sur coast, to the southern Monterey County line. It would be the third largest of the new states, with a current population of almost seven million, like Arizona, Washington or Massachusetts.

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The Bioethics Of Mars Settlement

An interesting article over at Slate that raises similar concerns to mine:

If we send heterosexual astronauts, of different sexes and of reproductive age, on extended space missions, then the possibility of pregnancy looms. To ward that off, could it be ethical to demand sterilization for any potentially fertile astronauts in a mixed-sex crew? Radiation exposure may eventually take care of the issue by causing infertility, but some pregnancies could happen before infertility occurs. Is conception even possible in the zero-gravity of space, or in the low-gravity, high-radiation habitats on Mars? If so, would a fetus develop normally?

We don’t know, since it would seem patently unethical to even conduct these sorts of experiments today in space or anywhere else, at least with human subjects. Again, the physical and psychological dangers of procreating and living outside of Earth can seem inhumane, especially for involuntary subjects (the children). Yet many plans for space exploration already take it as a foregone conclusion that humans will reproduce in space. For some, it’s a crucial part of the business plan, as in the case of Mars One’s goal of moving toward a “permanent human settlement.”

As I noted:

What I would suggest to the Mars One people, though, is given that they’re planning to spend billions on this project, and the long-term goal is to have true human settlement of the planet, which necessarily involves offspring of the settlers, they devote a modest amount of their budget funding research that NASA has completely neglected for decades, but that others have privately proposed, to establish a variable-gravity laboratory in orbit where we can start to understand these issues. The fact that NASA (or Congress) have never given such research any priority whatsoever is eloquent testimony to how unimportant both consider the goal of spreading humanity into the solar system. But until we do, young people who want to go off to barren (at least initially) worlds will have to continue to face the prospect of remaining barren themselves.

Space really isn’t important, politically. Just “space” jobs.

[Update a few minutes later]

Meanwhile, Kate Greene says that economics would dictate that a Mars mission consist of all women.

Here’s my problem with that. While of course mass is an important consideration, it isn’t the only one. I would argue that any Mars mission would have to be based on an affordable mission concept, and that if it is, mass won’t matter that much, and if it isn’t, no one will go. Beyond that, I think there’s a flaw in the logic here, or at least insufficient information:

Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways.

During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000.

We were only allowed to exit the habitat if we wore mock spacesuits. So many Martian hassles, so little glory.

The data certainly fit with my other observations. At mealtime, the women took smaller portions than the men, who often went back for seconds. One crew member complained how hard it was to maintain his weight, despite all the calories he was taking in.

She doesn’t say, but is it possible that maybe the men were doing more physical work? If so, it might be that if the women had to do all of the heavy lifting, their calorie consumption would increase too. In any event, if you just want to send people to Mars for the sake of sending people to Mars, a female crew would be fine, but if you want to settle the planet, there would be a problem…

The Quality Of Metal 3-D-Printed Objects

Looks like it’s about to exceed any other fabrication technology:

“We can now control local material properties, which will change the future of how we engineer metallic components,” Dehoff said. “This new manufacturing method takes us from reactive design to proactive design. It will help us make parts that are stronger, lighter and function better for more energy-efficient transportation and energy production applications such as cars and wind turbines.”

The researchers demonstrated the method using an ARCAM electron beam melting system (EBM), in which successive layers of a metal powder are fused together by an electron beam into a three-dimensional product. By manipulating the process to precisely manage the solidification on a microscopic scale, the researchers demonstrated 3-dimensional control of the microstructure, or crystallographic texture, of a nickel-based part during formation.

Crystallographic texture plays an important role in determining a material’s physical and mechanical properties. Applications from microelectronics to high-temperature jet engine components rely on tailoring of crystallographic texture to achieve desired performance characteristics.

“We’re using well established metallurgical phenomena, but we’ve never been able to control the processes well enough to take advantage of them at this scale and at this level of detail,” said Suresh Babu, the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing. “As a result of our work, designers can now specify location-specific crystal-structure orientations in a part.”

This will be key for human expansion into space.

Judith Curry’s WSJ Op-Ed

She rounds up the (hysterical and unhinged) reactions:

Climate science has been thrown into disarray by the hiatus, disagreement between climate model and instrumental estimates of climate sensitivity, uncertainties in carbon uptake by plants, and diverging interpretations of ocean heating (in the face of a dearth of observations). ‘Certainty’ arguably peaked at the time of the AR4 (2007); perception of uncertainty is arguably greater than any time since the FAR (1991). Yes of course we know more about the climate system than we did in 1991, but more knowledge about the complex climate systems opens up new areas of ignorance and greater uncertainty.

In context of the way climate sensitivity is defined by the IPCC, uncertainty in climate sensitivity is decreasing as errors in previous observational estimates are identified and eliminated and model estimates seem to be converging more. Climate model simulations, when compared with 21st century observations seem to be running too hot, giving creedence to the lower observation-based sensitivity values.

What do the lower values of climate sensitivity imply for policy? Well slower values of warming make it easier to adapt, and provide time to develop new technologies and new policies. But the true believers such as Mann et al. call adaptation, developing new technologies and policies as ‘inaction.’ The policy logic apparent in the essays critical of my op-ed are rather naive.

So we are left with science in disarray and naive logic regarding policy. And the ‘warm team’ wonders why people are yawning?

She should cite my piece on the precautionary principle.

Curing Alzheimer’s

…with a ketogenic diet?

Ketone esters are in a class of supplements called “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS by the FDA. They are expensive, difficult to find, and taste nasty (I’ve smelled some, and it was a bit like salty urine). There are no long term studies of the safety of these supplements in humans, though high ketone levels were maintained in severely obese, fasting patients for 6-8 weeks and there seemed to be no side effects. The main risk might be an exacerbation of gout, but truly, the long term consequences are unknown. For someone with dementia facing an inevitable downward spiral and life in a long term care facility, the question of benefits versus risk is a different calculation than in someone without that condition.

After a few days of escalating doses, Mr. Newport was brushing his own teeth, spontaneously dressing and bathing himself again, had improvements in mood, and was able to recite the alphabet. After 6-8 weeks, his memory improved and he started to do yard work again. After 20 months, he maintained definite improvement, with his cognitive function seeming to wax and wane with rising and falling ketone levels in his blood.

While this report is just a single case study, it does merit more clinical investigation. Given the severity and cost of the disease, the possibility of a far more effective treatment than what we currently have must be explored further.

It actually wouldn’t surprise me at all. Alzheimer’s may be just one more modern illness caused by the awful official dietary advice over the past six decades.

ISPCS

The opening ceremony is a (brief, presumably) literal space opera about a mission to Mars.

[Update]

“Searching for nothing but action verbs” on Mars. OK.

[Update after the 20-minute opera]

Pat Hynes paying tribute to the late Bill Gaubatz, who helped her get this conference started ten years ago, who died in July.

Off To Las Cruces

I’m heading to the airport to go to ISPCS. I’ll check in later.

[Later]

OK, made it here, went to reception, much food and drink was consumed and many old acquaintances refreshed. Lots of compliments on the book, but this is the choir. Off to bed, and conference tweeting/blogging on the morrow.

Safe Is Not An Option: A Review

Finally, someone at NASA is willing to take the book seriously enough to critically review it. Obviously, I will respond at some point (TL;DR version, he cherry picks and ignores much of what I have to say, but that’s to be expected, given his NASA-centric viewpoint), but it’s a bad week between taxes and ISPCS. Anyway, despite my disagreement with the review itself, I’m sincerely grateful to Mr. Fodrocci for finally acknowledging the book’s existence, rather than (as much of the industry, including IAASS, has) pretending it doesn’t exist and hoping it will just go away.

Sierra Nevada’s Bid

Why NASA rejected it:

Although the document praises Sierra’s “strong management approach to ensure the technical work and schedule are accomplished,” it cautions that the company’s Dream Chaser had “the longest schedule for completing certification.” The letter also states that “it also has the most work to accomplish which is likely to further extend its schedule beyond 2017, and is most likely to reach certification and begin service missions later than the other ‘Offerors’.”

Discussing costs, Gerstenmaier says that “although SNC’s price is lower than Boeing’s price, its technical and management approaches and its past performance are not as high and I see considerably more schedule risk with its proposal. Both SNC and SpaceX had high past performance, and very good technical and management approaches, but SNC’s price is significantly higher than SpaceX’s price.”

Touching on why Boeing received a $4.2 billion contract, versus $2.6 billion for SpaceX, he adds “I consider Boeing’s superior proposal, with regard to both its technical and management approach and its past performance, to be worth the additional price in comparison to the SNC proposal.”

Given how subjective such evaluation processes are, it’s not an implausible story.

Is There An Open-Source Doctor In The House?

OK, so I installed Gnucash on my machine last week, and it worked like a charm. I rebooted over the weekend after a yum update (which included a kernel rebuild I think) and now when I try to load the program, it crashes, with this response:

Backtrace:
In ice-9/boot-9.scm:
157: 16 [catch #t # ...]
In unknown file:
?: 15 [apply-smob/1 #]
In ice-9/boot-9.scm:
3597: 14 [process-use-modules (((gnucash price-quotes)))]
702: 13 [map # ((#))]
3598: 12 [# (#)]
2864: 11 [resolve-interface (gnucash price-quotes) #:select ...]
2789: 10 [# # ...]
3065: 9 [try-module-autoload (gnucash price-quotes) #f]
2401: 8 [save-module-excursion # ]
3085: 7 [# ]
In unknown file:
?: 6 [primitive-load-path "gnucash/price-quotes" ...]
In gnucash/price-quotes.scm:
41: 5 [# ]
In ice-9/boot-9.scm:
3597: 4 [process-use-modules (((www main)))]
702: 3 [map # ((#))]
3598: 2 [# ((www main))]
2867: 1 [resolve-interface (www main) #:select ...]
In unknown file:
?: 0 [scm-error misc-error #f "~A ~S" ("no code for module" (www main)) #f]

ERROR: In procedure scm-error:
ERROR: no code for module (www main)

Any ideas from anyone what the problem might be? I’ve tried uninstalling/reinstalling, with no joy.

[Update a few minutes later]

Someone else seems to have the same problem, or a very similar one. I’ve emailed Mssr. Villemont.

Also, I’ve come up with a temporary fix to let me get taxes done. Skrooge seems to be able to import the data. It’s more of a personal finance app than for business, but it will let me do what I need to do until I get Gnucash fixed.

[Update a few minutes later]

Great. I can import my personal finances, but it fails when it tries to bring in the business books.

[Update a while later]

Good news. I deleted the file recommended at that page, and Gnucash seems to load properly now.

The Chairman Of The House Science Committee

is a moron:

“If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?” Smith asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an Oct. 7 letter co-signed by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee.

So as a bonus, the chairman of the space subcommittee is an idiot, too.

The country’s in the very best of hands.

Bias In Academia

…is destroying scientific integrity:

OK, it’s not exactly a “Sopranos” plot. But it’s pretty shady for the world of higher education. Chen went to great lengths to make up fake email addresses and even assume the names of other scientists to write approvingly of his own research.

In a sense, though, he was just exploiting the deep flaws of the peer review system. The academy has become a kind of club where friends give friends flattering assessments of research, which essentially guarantees promotions and tenure.

Here’s how the former editor of the British Medical Journal explained peer review:

“The editor looks at the title of the paper and sends it to two friends whom the editor thinks know something about the subject. If both advise publication the editor sends it to the printers. If both advise against publication the editor rejects the paper. If the reviewers disagree the editor sends it to a third reviewer and does whatever he or she advises. This … is little better than tossing a coin.”

But it’s not just the clubbiness of academia that is to blame. There is such ideological uniformity in the ivory tower that no one ever questions the important assumptions behind anyone else’s research.

Gee, where have we seen that sort of thing before?

I’d note, though, that contra the headline, it’s not a “liberal” bias. It’s a leftist bias.

Obama’s Great Ebola Error

The last time a president tried to make a health crisis about national security, fifty million people died.

It’s not surprising, really. Wilson was our first truly fascist president (complete with racism). Obama is simply following in his (and Roosevelt’s) footsteps.

And meanwhile, we don’t really have anything resembling a national response. So I guess ebola is just another thing that the president has no strategy on.

[Update a while later]

Well, this was inevitable. Ebola is the GOP’s fault. Because they’ve been in charge of the CDC, with its emphasis on junk nutrition science and gun control, while its budget rose.

[Update a couple minutes later]

The problem with the argument that it’s Republicans’ fault.

As Glenn says, if Congress was smart, it would force the CDC to shift funding from all the junk science it’s been doing, and start focusing on actual infectious diseases. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world in which Congress is smart.

[Update a couple minutes later]

The CDC is losing its grip. The country’s in the very best of hands.