Saturday, August 27, 2011

Seasteads: Full Speed Ahead, and Damn the World Government!

Shimizu Seastead Tower

The seasteading idea has been in the news lately, largely due to a expose of billionaire Peter Thiel, and his quirks. At Next Big Future, David Brin provides his opinion about Seasteading, suggesting that wide scale seasteading may only occur in the context of a world government!

Here is an outline of Brin's thinking on seasteads, which largely come from the writing of his most recent SF book:
1- The core aim is to escape meddling by any modern states...

2- This business plan has to compete with an older and more reliable one: when you want an “offshore” country of your own, simply buy one that already exists...

3- Now, in fairness, this may not only be an option for the rich! ...

4- The ocean is a harsh and dangerous environment. Corrosive to metal and other parts....

5- A related matter. When you are at sea, facing nature’s full brunt, including typhoons and corrosion and threats of all kinds, the daily details of running the place will be neither anarchic nor democratic. There will be a captaincy…...

6- Clearly there is a shortcut through all the red tape and other dangers. I portray it in EXISTENCE. That trick is to forge alliances with already-existing small, island states....

7- ...If you reject the democracies, then will you call them for help, when an armed gang comes to simply take over your sovereign land, by right of conquest?...

8- ... Instead of emphasizing the tax-avoidance aspect (a meme which I predict will bite its promoters back, very hard, in the near future), I’d rather see the emphasis be on freedom to do social experiments. Feminist enclaves? Polygamous or polyamorous paradise? A haven for drug experimentation? For genetic self-mod or for bureaucracy-minimized space launch? A place of self-exile for sex-offenders? A MYOB festival? ...

...Because of the way that WG [ed: World Government] is forming on Planet Earth… with the judiciary and bureaucracy first and the legislature last… the chief effect is to ensure that individual humans have no legal standing before international agencies. Only sovereign nations have standing, can file suit, negotiate treaties, assert rights and privileges.

... If they can establish a dozen or so new, sea-based national entities, to stand alongside the 200 or so that already exist, then the SeaSteaders will be in the same position as the original founders of the New York or London Stock Exchanges.

They will have inheritable or negotiable “seats” — a grandfathered position of “standing” allowing them to step up before WG bodies representing the interests of millions of clients. Large and small.

Think this is about autonomy? Or feudal privilege? Or social experimentation? Naw. These guys are smarter than that.

It’s about getting in on the ground floor of the 21st century’s great new business frontier.* _Brin
Brin may honestly believe that his imagination is an accurate reflection of the outside world. In fact, some of his very strong, but questionable, views on many other topics suggests that this is the case. The anti-solipsistic solipsist. Isn't that always the way?

Brin has a degree in (astro?) physics, and may see himself as a poly-expert of sorts. Certainly writers in general often consider themselves knowledgeable on the topics which they research for reports, articles, stories, and books. Of course, what they are is semi-exposed dilettantes, not experts. But try telling them that! ;-)

What about this world government idea? The concept works fairly well within a number of science fictional plots, but is a world government likely for the near future of planet Earth? Only in the sense that Imperial Rome was a world government, or Alexander's Greece. A government over the "known world," a fudged world government, by name, if not in reality, is always possible.

Far more likely than an orderly world government is a "Coming Anarchy," as described by Robert D Kaplan. World demographic trends projected to the middle of this century predict a diminishment of Europe, North America, and the advanced nations of East Asia -- with an explosive growth in the populations of low IQ tribal areas in Africa and Asia. Multicultural areas within Europe, North America, and Oceania are likely to grow at the expense of the core host populations.

These trends do not paint a picture of a coming, all-powerful world government. So where does Brin likely go wrong? Brin's problem here -- as in other areas of his thinking, apparently -- lies in his assumptions and biases. Unexamined biases are a common curse of intelligent and successful people who feel that "they have arrived." Why mess with success? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. etc etc.

In this case, Brin's bugaboos are the "oligarchs." The concept is presumably borrowed from the Russian experience of the 1990s and 2000s, and extended to all other world societies and cultures. Is this a logical extrapolation?

Regardless, these oligarchs are the puppet-masters and string pullers behind the curtains, and if they decide they want a world government, Brin believes they have the power to create one.

Reality check: All of this [Brin's book plot] takes place within a futuristic setting, in the context of advanced technologies which can extend the power of individuals and cabals significantly. Anything can happen. We willingly suspend judgment just to see what is coming next. But it is not reality.

Al Fin sociologists and futurists believe that Brin is overlooking the most salient dynamic trends occurring on the planet. He does this because they are hiding behind his blind spots, his unexamined assumptions. This means that Brin is in for some significant surprises in the not so distant future.

Lucky Brin.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Personal Beer Maker Makes Gallons of Beer in 1 Week

The WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery from WilliamsWarn on Vimeo.
WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery

The series of images below illustrate the steps taken when brewing your personal beer with the WW Personal Brewery.
On Day 1, the home brewmaster must first make sure his equipment is sparkling clean. Then he adds the water, malt extract, yeast, and hops to the beer maker. The thermostat is set to 70 degrees F.
Day 2-5:
When yeast turns malt sugars into ethanol, one by-product is carbon dioxide. The gas is trapped in the tank, and as the pressure builds, CO2 is forced into the beer. A valve allows brewers to regulate the amount of carbonation _PopSci

Day 6:
Once the beer is chilled to 42ºF, brewers add a clarifying agent, which causes the yeast to drop into a collection jar at the base of the tank. Once the beer is clarified, brewers simply close the tank’s lower valve, detach the jar, and dump the yeast down the sink. _PopSci

Day 7:
The CO2 captured in the tank forces the beer through a tube to the tap. A supplementary CO2 canister maintains internal pressure as the beer level drops. _PopSci
The current line of brew kits are restricted to light ales, but ultimately the ocmpany plans to provide the ability to brew as much as 50 pints of ales, lagers, stouts, and more.

These high tech beermakers sell for roughly $5,000. Alternatively, beer lovers can acquire lower tech beermaking equipment using malt extract, for under $200, and buy the makings for 5 gallons of home brew for anywhere between $30 and $50, depending on the type of beer. Or, if you are resourceful you can scrape together brewing equipment for next to nothing, and the ingredients for whole grain brewing for less than the cost of malt extract. And in fact, you can grow your own hops and your own yeast strains.

Beer making is one of the many necessary competencies required for all members of the Society for Creative Apocalyptology, a subsidiary of the Al Fin Syndicate. Beer is a survival drink as well as a social lubricant, a useful item of trade, and a satisfying, nutritious food.

If you have more money than you can spend, consider experimenting with the WW Personal Brewery. You will have to obtain the machine in New Zealand and have it shipped out to your location yourself. If it makes beer with an acceptable quality, you may get some good use of it, and save some time. But more likely you will find that you either love home brewing or hate it. If you love it, you will probably move quickly to other equipment that makes it easier for you to customise your batches.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Pandemic of Malthusian Illiteracy

Global economy optimists however say that "Malthusian illiteracy" lurks behind remaining adherents of Peak Oil theory - which basically says conventional oil production will stagnate and fall but demand will go on growing. _MarketOracle
As knowledgeable analysts come to understand that oil demand, rather than oil supply, is currently in the driver's seat, some of the impetus behind the peak oil panic has subsided. And yet the "Malthusian Impulse" continues to drive many observers, against their more rational proclivities. Still, global hydrocarban reserves continue to grow, year after year, and oil demand is slated to decrease in time.

New sources for transport fuels are likely to come from many directions, including new gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies. Oxford Catalyst's microchannel GTL technology is very much in demand, as are other new varieties of GTL technologies. The market for GTL fuels may be more than 20 million barrels per day! Imagine the impact of that huge new supply on the global oil market. (Note that approximately between 5 and 10 million barrels per day could be produced via GTL from currently flared gas alone. Stranded gas could double that number.) More information at this PDF white paper download from Velocys, creator of the Oxford Catalysts microchannel technology.

A more conventional source for GTL transport fuels is the large scale technology championed by Shell.
In 2011, Shell began shipments from its Pearl GTL project in Qatar...The project is able to produce 140,000 b/d of fuel and 120,000 b/d of ethane and condensates... _Petroleum Economist

And that is just the beginning. As long as the huge price spread between the cost of natural gas and the cost of crude oil remains, more and more GTL projects will kick in to take advantage of this "easy money."

Second and third generation biofuels from biomass technologies are beginning to come on line, slowly (consult Al Fin Energy blog for updated news on this topic). Advanced biofuels technologies are not likely to take an appreciable bite out of crude oil demand for another 5 or 10 years. As long as natural gas prices stay this low, only the most efficient biofuels projects will be able to compete in the liquid fuels markets without government subsidies. But by the year 2030 if the technology continues to develop, the writing will be on the wall. This is a biological world, after all.

Advanced nuclear power technologies are likely to aid the development of new fuels technologies of all kinds, supplying safe and abundant power and heat for a multitude of energy development projects from oil sands to oil shales to biomass and aquaculture projects in cold climates, irrigation and desalination of saltwater in arid climates etc etc.

Other factors leading to a decreased demand for crude oil includes the increasing use of both natural gas and biomass as feedstock for the vast chemicals industry -- an industrial sector previously dependent upon petroleum for feedstock. (see Al Fin Energy blog for much more)

The ongoing global economic downturn and demand destruction extends from Europe to Japan to the US, and is beginning to put stress on the Chinese and Indian economies -- despite all the rah! rah! hype about the coming age of the Chindian global economy. Many nations which have maintained hefty consumer subsidies for transport fuels are being forced to reduce the subisidies. More downward pressure on demand.

Malthusian theories are appealing for their simplicity. And yet the never-ending and never-fulfilled Malthusian predictions of doom ignore the most salient and disruptive human technology of all -- the goal-oriented innovativeness of the human mind.

Despite the best efforts of energy-starvationists in the Obama administration, in the EU bureaucracy, in national bureaucracies of EU nations and advanced nations around the globe -- the prospects for abundant energy and fuels in the future are quite good, as long as the clowns in power do not destroy the economies they oversee.

If you have abundant clean energy and fuels, everything else is doable.

Previously published at Al Fin Energy and Al Fin Central

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bringing Europea and Africa Together, Making More Lebensraum


The Atlantropa project involves building a hydroelectric dam across the Gibraltar Strait, lowering the level of the Mediterranean Sea by 200 metres, and capturing the enormous energy from the resulting sea level differential between the Atlantic and the Med. At the same time, significant amounts of new real estate would emerge as if by magic, ready for occupation and development.

Building a bridge between Africa and Europe would then become child's play, allowing the massive migratory movement of populations between continents.
Modern Mechanix
This imaginative scheme involves the creation of ice dams / dikes around shallow seafloor, which enable the building of more permanent concrete dams / dikes. The consequent reclaimed lands would allow for further occupation and development of land for multiple uses, including agriculture, energy production, commercial developments, and even residential lands for the daring.

Seriously, such projects for the creation of new European lebensraum belong in the past. Modern Europe cannot occupy and develop all the land it currently has, with the shrinking demographics of Europe's core populations.

But the building of bridges from Europe to Africa could certainly speed the multiculturalisation of Europe, and provide a much needed pressure relief valve for Africa's burgeoning populations.

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