Showing posts from 2008
To the moon, naked and screaming...

Let's extend the idea of "naked and screaming" to a mission direct from Earth to the moon.

If all we cared about was getting a couple of people to the moon, alive, and we wanted to do it as cheaply as possible, we'd have a one-way rocket. It'd have no pressurized capsule. The astronauts would have space suits and a frame to strap into on top of a stack of rockets and fuel and some electronics.

Their vehicle would have a single, reliable engine and plenty of fuel tanks that can be ejected once empty. Since they don't want to land with a heavier engine than they really need, it's not a particularly large rocket. That may mean they take a bit longer getting to the moon - circling the earth an extra time or so for the most efficient engine burns. Same for the moon - an extra orbit or so - but they aren't going to take the time to establish a nice circular orbit either, as they aren't leaving a "return mod…

Naked and Screaming into Space

I've got a term for how we can get the costs of human space launches down. I call it "Naked and Screaming". It's based on the idea that the cheapest possible way to get someone into space, would be to simply strap them onto the nose of a rocket, and launch them "naked and screaming" to low earth orbit. Start from that perspective, then work your way backwards to the minimum cost method of getting someone safely and reliably to LEO.

If we assume an 80kg astronaut, at perhaps $10000/kg to LEO - the "naked and screaming" price might be $800,000. Not exactly the price of a vacation plane ticket - but perhaps affordable for a corporation that needed a human operating in space.

But obviously we can't *really* send them up naked. No one could hear them scream out there, anyhow... And perhaps we'd like to somehow be able to send them somewhere useful?

That's where most manned space programs start to go wrong, I think. They start thinking…

Strike! (not)

A replacement for the "strike" is needed. It's a crude and destructive tactic, for all sides: workers lose wages, employers lose sales and profits and market share to competitors, customers are inconvenienced, suppliers may go broke, governments lose tax revenues, etc.

The long term harm a strike causes both sides creates anger that gets in the way of negotiating and considering the other side's point of view.

An alternative would be to keep the factories or services rolling - but workers would not be paid, and 100% of income from sales of products and services would go into an escrow account, out of the control of both sides, and neither side could borrow against its value.

It's easily "tweaked" to balance the incentives on both sides and encourage fast resolution. Perhaps after two weeks, all profits must be donated to charity, along with 10% of escrowed wages.

Both sides might be required to put up a "good faith" bond, that they'd sacrif…

Another message on space to Pres-elect Obama

What I'm posting to Obama's new site:

Create a NEW PATH INTO SPACE, challenging NASA to begin delivering robots, equipment and materials to the moon by the beginning of 2011, using the ARES I rocket. The robots *must* be controlled by human operators on Earth, creating tremenduous flexibility. The ultimate goal will be extraction and use of lunar resources to reduce the amount of material that must be launched from Earth in the future, slashing the cost of access to space.

Establish a "STEPPING STONE TO SPACE" program, in which any group - academic, commerical, or even private volunteers - will be able to purchase or obtain a grant of time using the lunar robots and equipment, or space on a robotic delivery to the moon. Announcing this early should get a lot of people excited, including small for-profit companies, if NASA establishes a series of prizes and contracts aimed at encouraging development of useful lunar capabilities.

Finally, begin AIMING F…

Proposed Presidential Vision and Plan for NASA

Proposed Presidential Vision and Five Point Plan for re-directing NASA to more sensible, efficient and far-sighted human-in-space operations :

1) Challenge NASA with a new PLAN FOR SPACE - to begin delivering robots, supplies and equipment to the moon within TWO YEARS. The robots should be simple but dextrous, durable and repairable - in order to carry out a mission of long-term exploration, research and development focused on establishing industrial production capabilities on the moon. Since the moon is relatively close, the robots will be directly (though remotely) controlled by human operators on Earth. Controlling the robots will be tedious and slow, due to radio communication delays between Earth and the moon. But one remote controlled robot, operated in 24-7 shifts, should be able to accomplish at least as much per day as one space-suited human, and keep at it for years (with repairs), at roughly 1/100th the cost of a "manned" program and with no peril to human lif…

To the Moon, Alice!

My pet space project - take advantage of the moon being only light-seconds away and always facing Earth. Immediately start launching robots to set up an industrial base there.

They could be quite simple robots initially. No need to build in *any* AI - they can be remotely controlled by human operators on Earth. We could download AI software as we develop it later, to reduce the inconvenience of the light-speed delay.

Of course they won't be as capable as humans on site. Though humans would be encumbered by space suits. And they'd be limited to a few hours work outside each day. And of course, each human would require many (many) tons of life-support equipment as well as a reliable ride home in case things go wrong.

While each remote controlled robot would probably be 10x slower than a human on site, they can work 24 hours (with multiple shifts of operators on Earth), so they'll get about the same amount done per day, for perhaps 1/100th the cost.

If we started from s…

No Soup Lines ... Yet?

On October 9th, 9:36am, Elizabeth MacDonald posted a blog entitled We are Not Headed for a Great Depression". The market was up slightly for the day, so perhaps she was feeling relieved. She stated that the market might "drift lower", but apparently felt that the market had made a bottom. As further evidence, she noted that we don't have an soup lines stretching around the block.

By the end of the day, the DJIA was off 7% for the day - 8.5% from when she posted her article. That doesn't feel much like "drifting lower" to me...

If we go back before the 90's boom, to 1992, the djia was at about 3300. Applying inflation and ~2% real market value gain (the long term average) - 6600 would have been a "rational expectation" in 1992 for the djia in 2008. We're standing at about 8600 - still about 23% over valued relative to that. How badly scared will people get if we just drop 23% more - forget about under-shooting the market's real…

Interstellar Probe to the Centauri stars

From Centauri Dreams :

"A forty year flyby to the Centauri stars would be moving at something better than a tenth of lightspeed once it gets up to cruise. Even if exquisitely targeted, such a probe would operate within 1 AU of the target system (let’s say Centauri B) for something less than three hours. Ponder the challenge presented by collecting imagery and data from Centauri planets in such a scenario."

I’d think that could be addressed by using a large number of smaller probes and getting them strung out over a long line, about 30 light hours apart. Each one might spend only 3 hours in system - but the chain could spend days or months passing through. They’d each beam their results back to the next in the chain, and the last unit in the chain would have to be able to transmit it back to Earth. (Redundancy is also easy to build in - if one fails, the next in line could be close enough to still get the signal.

You might create a “chain of double-sided mirrored probes” and dir…

Proxy Votes for Social Action

Millions or billions of stock proxies go un-voted every year. Or if people bother to vote them, they just vote with the board, or their votes are somewhat random, cancelling each other out. People just don't have enough information (or time to comprehend, let along gather, all the information needed) to make their vote meaningful.

What if there were a website you could go to, that specialized in voting your proxies for you - in a meaningful way, consistent with your personal beliefs? They might also "recommend" stocks - not based on potential profits, but based on companies they think it would be strategically important and possible to influence - with email updates on how and why they're voting particular ways, to keep people visiting and involved in the site.

And as several organizations set up these services (probably sharing a single service that handles the technological side for them, but with their own labeled/URL front-end), they should be able (with the pr…

This makes me angry..

In an article on a promising new approach to curing cancer, based on a chance observation of a mouse that was immune to cancer, there's a quote: "if Cui had been trained as an immunologist, he would have thrown out the mouse right then".

It's as if Flemming had seen fungus killing the staph bacteria in his petri dishes, and been upset that it ruined his experiment. I think that anyone who has lost someone to cancer would be angered by the thought that the *default* prevailing attitude among cancer researchers toward cancer research - which we've poured billions into over at least two generations of the "search for the cure" while many millions of lives were lost - is one that would dismiss *any* sign of a cure for cancer.

Haven't scientists been carefully studying heavy smokers who don't get lung cancer? Patients who get cancer and then "miraculously" go into remission after declining medical treatment? Why should this come as a su…

Safer Molecular Manufacturing Through Nanoblocks

(Copied here for 'safe-keeping', from the CRN Taskforce on Nanotechnology)

Those responsible for the safety of a nation — leaders and military and police forces — might be hard pressed to deal with a world in which any weapon or dangerous device could be manufactured in large quantities at the press of a button, at the same time that economic and social norms are being overthrown by rapid change.

We can expect that — by default — authorities will want molecular manufacturing (MM) to be tightly restricted — kept out of private hands, and limited to the few nations that initially have it. That approach might provide some added security — or it might simply create such incredible pent-up demand that any barriers and restrictions are quickly overcome by black markets, intellectual property piracy, rogue-nation programs to duplicate MM, etc.

This essay attempts to chart a middle path for the early years of MM availability — one that allows most of the benefits of MM to be widely av…

AI versus AN, Implications for Singularity

This post really should be titled "AI versus AI", because it will contrast Artificial Intelligence and what I'll call Artificial Instincts. But that'd get confusing, so I'll let AN stand for the latter.

The field of Artificial Intelligence has bifurcated - originally it was simply about how to make machines think like people do - how to make a conscious, articulate, logical mind. We made some great early progress - theorem proving, chess playing via heuristics, higher level language code compilation, expert systems. But eventually it was recognized that if we have to code every bit of the intelligence in an AI, that may simply be too hard.

There are a few on-going attempts in that direction (CYC for example, with it's huge database of rules), and perhaps that will work out. But mostly AI researchers gave up on that approach, and shifted to a "bottom up" approach -what I'll call Artificial Instincts - in which researchers attempt to build &q…

Mobile Google Interface

Speech recognition listens to everything being said near you. You have some means to easily display the transcript and highlight anything. Speech recognition wouldn't even have to get better - Google could search phonetically.

So if someone makes reference to something you don't understand, just zip back to it, select it, and google it. Or ask a question out loud - then select and google. Or pre-select, state your question, and release the selection - no need to go back and visually select.

If you see something in a different language, simply say the language you think it is, and try to pronouce it. "French quincaillerie". Select and google.

99 $T - trillion, (not billion) $99e12 - budget deficit over the next 70 years or so, for health care and Social Security spending. It that's not a sign that government "insurance" programs are broken, what is? I'll focus on health care here, but much the same is true of social security.

Merely increasing spending - cutting elsewhere (typically military spending) - won't fix this. Demand for health care is quite elastic, and if "someone else" is willing to pay more, consumption will simply expand. The same goes for cutting health care costs, by the way - if it's cheaper, people will consume more. (Some go so far as to claim there'll be "economies of scale" - that health care will get cheaper in volume, or that bureaucrats wielding the clout of millions of consumers will be able to force lower pricing on providers. At best they'll displace costs from one area to another, while introducing huge inefficiencies.)

No, the only real soluti…
Teachable moment - that short window of time in which someone wonders about something and, if presented with the answer, will readily and painlessly absorb it and retain it.

Teachable Moments(tm): Software, physical or virtual device, mounted in, as part of, or associated with something one has with one pretty much all the time. I.e., most likely one's cellphone.

Google was a first approximation - good for finding answers about anything, but not as easily or specifically as needed. TM needs next level - take in a full context of what the person is doing, where they are, what they've been asking previously, apply some AI, parse a natural language, spoken or tersely typed question, verify that you have the right question, correct that if necessary (but minimize that), then provide the specific answer AND volunteer a little more context AND provide links to related context - hopefully the answer should always be "almost satisfying" - in the sense that it provides the…