Archive for category Science

Some answers on Climate Change

Someone asked some questions on climate change elsewhere, and I took some time to answer them. I’m cross-posting the questions and my responses here for the benefit of any of my visitors who might have similar questions:


Why should I support fighting climate change?

Do you have kids? Are there any kids in your near family, or do friends have kids you care about, or (reaching, but) do you care about kids in general? Because if this isn’t stopped, they’re going to be at least miserable, and possibly much worse.

What action should I take to help reduce climate change?

Change, if it’s coming at all, must come from both the top and the bottom.
Starting with your own actions… drive less, set your home to warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter, keep appliances off that don’t need to be on. Do this even if you’re in an area with hydro or other non-stank power, because power you don’t use can be shared to other areas that may not be hydro or other relatively clean power. Unless you’re 100% power independent, for instance, if you run your own isolated solar installation.

How much money is it going to cost me?

Your own actions will probably save you money, potentially quite a bit, but how much depends on your present circumstances. Next is getting your representatives — senators, congresscritters, the president — to take political action, which can be much more effective, but is comparably much more difficult to achieve. They can fund the science and technology that will be needed to counter the effects, and they can set emissions regulations that can slow the onset of the more serious problems somewhat, thus providing more time for the science and tech folk to create and implement remedial counters.

What will happen if I do nothing?

In the nearer term… food shortages as crops have to be moved to more northern temperate bands into the hands of farmers who are unfamiliar with them, and as ocean acidification increases and blows out the balance of life there, resulting in changes that may in fact turn out to be catastrophic — a lot of the world depends upon the ocean as a food source. If it’s unavailable to them, they’re going to want the other foodstuffs, and that will change the market price and availability — not in a good way. Violence is definitely possible over this issue. Harsher weather, generally speaking warmer and carrying more intense storms. In the longer term, some ocean rise, which will cause people in low-lying coastal areas to relocate, which will (a) reduce the available real estate people can live on, and (b) destroy or very seriously inconvenience all businesses that are presently operating in those locations.

End game… probably this will get solved, IMHO, but it may be well into some of the above problems before it is if our politicians and citizens don’t get after it. If it isn’t solved… might be pretty much apocalyptic within a few hundred years. Worst case… runaway warming… ever look at the climate of Venus?

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Why Farenheit is better for people

Scale 25º 50º 75º 100º
Celsius Cold Warm Dead Dead Dead
Fahrenheit Really Cold Cold Meh Warm Really Hot
Kelvin Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead
Rankine Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead
Réaumur Cold Warm Dead Dead Dead

Also, look. At -40ºC, it’s actually -40ºF. Isn’t that cute? Celsius trying to be reasonable, and all. Sorry, Celsius. Too low, too late. Back across the pond with you.

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AI – Just how close are we in 2016?

Many like to try to guess at how long it will take to develop artificial intelligence. Like many in the field, I have my own ideas about it. I don’t think guesses that look at evolution as found in nature in order to apply those time scales to our own efforts are worthy. What follows is why I think that is the case.

Here’s the thing. Evolution in the sense most are familiar with it is basically a biological hardware development process. It took a long time for nature to produce the right computing hardware using that process. In the current “version” of humanity, consciousness arises automatically upon input and organization of enough data. That’s very good hardware from the perspective of consciousness or no consciousness.

With computer hardware, however, the odds are excellent that the hardware is already more than sufficient. If that’s the case, then we’re just dealing with one last step, which is strictly based on varying software.
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Good news: Ultracaps are coming right along.

As of today, October 15th, 2015, commercially available ultracaps have obtained an energy density of 10.1 wh/kg. A standard lead-acid battery, such as the one you almost certainly use to start your car, offers an energy density of 40 wh/kg.

This means that within about four times the weight (and probably the volume) of said battery, you could use ultracaps (and the appropriate control electronics), you could completely — and permanently, as the ultracaps have multi-million charge/discharge cycle capability — replace your vehicle’s starter / power battery. This capability is considerably further along the development and commercial availability road for ultracaps; the last time I really paid close attention, ultracap energy density was down in the 2.5 wh/kg range, and so it would have taken sixteen times the weight (and volume!) of them to do the same job. That’s a lot tougher to justify.
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A Theory of Mind

Consciousness and the mechanism of thinking in general have remained an opaque block to science overall and specifically to researchers in the area. Here I attempt to lay out the fundamental underpinnings that support consciousness, as well as other related mental activity, and then place consciousness and related function into the context so established. I make a concerted effort not to lapse into jargon.

About the Title

As it turns out, “Theory of Mind” has some previous associations, so please note it was only intended as a description of the content here, not a declaration of association with these ideas.

I will present a description of how the brain operates. Not a metaphor — metaphors tell you what things are like, not what they are — but my conclusion as to how the brain, and therefore the mind, actually works.

I’m working backwards on this, as are we all — but after almost forty years of examining the problem I have come up with a model that has turned out to satisfy every question that I have about thought and consciousness in what I can only describe as a manner satisfactory to myself. Which is, I think, in itself notable. If for no other reason than everything I have ever come up with previously, or read about, has utterly failed to do this. So, dear reader, please come along as I try to explain myself. Literally.
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Let’s talk Evidence.

One of the common aphorisms we hear in two varieties is, first form, “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”, and second form, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Either statement seems to make sense on its face; but this is because of a common misunderstanding. In truth, only one form actually works for us within the bounds of reason.
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Maxwell’s Daemon rolls over in grave, finds pea

So, perpetual motion… nah. Of course not. And therefore, no device can have an efficiency over 100%. Right? RIGHT? Well, apparently not. Follow that link. Read. Imagine the consternation of the scientist upon determining the first results. I’ve been smiling ever since I thought about it that way.

There, wasn’t that interesting? Physics is COOL. huh. huh.

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Ultracaps — has the “wall” been jumped?

After years of ultracaps lagging battery power density, but tempting us with an almost endless stream of other benefits, UCLA has announced a breakthrough: easily manufactured, physically robust, high energy density ultracaps. After having been burned so badly by EEStor’s complete failure to back up its claims, we’ve every reason to be skeptical, but… this comes from UCLA. Surely they actually know what they’re doing, have actual peer review, and so on?

Well, all I can say is, bring it on, baby. If I never buy another battery, it’ll be too soon.

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