April 25th, 2012

#3324: Asteroid mining: coming soon to a solar system near you.

...as long, that is, as we can keep the idiots out of the way.

It's raining soup! Grab a bucket!

And one of Arse Technica's section headings for this article is: "Shouldn't the government put a stop to all this trillionaire tomfoolery?"

The short answer is "No."

The long answer:


I'm convinced that the next free state will evolve out in the solar system somewhere. Maybe on the Moon, or in the asteroid belt. There'll be a war of independence and the Earth--sitting at the bottom of a steep gravity gradient--can't win it.

Okay: right now it's essentially 1500. Colombus has been back for a while from discovering the "East Indies" and everyone is trying to figure out how to carve out a chunk of the pie for themselves, and various countries are doing various things to get their feet in the door.

It took 276 years from that point for the United States of America to be born. I don't expect this one to take that long, but it'll certainly be longer than my expected remaining lifespan; and even if I am still alive by the time it happens I'll be too old to take advantage of it. *sigh*

But it's encouraging to see private industry finally get around to understanding something SF fans have known for years: there is no ecology in space. You don't have to do an environmental impact survey when you're surrounded by literally nothing. There is no "fragile lunar ecosystem" to worry about.

Please note that the plan detailed by this article is talking about Earth-crossing asteroids which are 50 meters and less in diameter. This isn't a "dinosaur killer"; if you accidentally drop a rock like that, it's 78% likely to hit an ocean, where it'll vanish without a trace. It won't even cause a big splash. C'mon--we build bigger ships than that.

And if it hits land? It's still unlikely to hit a densely-populated area. Humans use about 30% of the land surface of the planet.

And each 50-meter rock is potentially worth tens of billions of dollars. Okay, the Chinese have a near-monopoly on rare earths because they don't worry about the environmental impacts of mining and smelting the things, and simply don't care that parts of their country are becoming lifeless, toxic wastelands. (After all, the commisars don't live in those places!) What if we had corporations that could go get asteroids, mine them for rare-earths, sell the smelted metals at market prices and still make huge profits despite the enormously greater up-front investment in equipment?

A mining colony on the Moon could--after constructing smelter and power systems--turn out aluminum ingots. The electricity required could come from solar panels made of lunar materials; only processing chemicals would have to be boosted there. It would take some doing--it would certainly not be a turnkey operation!--but once the place was up and running its cost to smelt aluminum from the lunar soil would be pennies on the ton. Shipping it back to Earth is all downhill, and simply selling their product at market prices the venture would make money hand over fist once it got going.

And aluminum is only one of the useful things we know are up there on the Moon, where no spotted owl dwells. There's no snail darter or mole rat or prothonotary warbler to be displaced by industrialization; if you emit a greenhouse gas on the moon it's going to diffuse into space long before Michael Mann's great-grandson can get around to inventing a hockey stick graph "proving" anthropogenic lunar warming.

Just like it was 500 years ago, people are looking across the gulf at a new world where they can do all kinds of things without a government representative coming by and making them stop because regulation D-42.18 subsection 6 requires them to fill out form Y-1176.32-A and submit a processing fee with triplicate copies of a report from a government-licensed independent inspector certifying that the low-flush toilets in their employee restrooms have been properly modified to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and federal law prohibits such activity until you can prove that you're in compliance with all 500,000,000 federal regulations...including the ones that contradict other ones.

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The headline should say "never before published photographs" to be completely accurate. I mean, someone must have seen them, if only the guy who developed the film and the other guy--later--who scanned them into the computer.

...but the article provides a link to the database, which--predictably--is being hammered by people wanting to look at the pictures. There's 800,000 of them in there.

Here's the archive home page for future reference.

* * *

Concealed carry classes for Illinois residents. This is so IL residents can get CCW permits from states which issue them to people from other states. The site says that if you get a Utah CCW permit, you can then carry in 29 states.
Don't wait for the state legislature to pass concealed carry in Illinois - It probably won't happen!
Not as long as the Democrats run things here, it won't. Illinois is the Democrats' redoubt of gun control. It's the least-free state in the union and they aim to keep it that way.

* * *

You need an associate's degree to drive a truck with an automatic meter reader in it. No, I don't know why, since it's a pickup truck or van. (In IL you'd need a Class D license, which lets you drive anything up to about 6 tons GVWR.)

And the machine that actually reads the meters is automatic.

* * *

The BATFE can apparently violate federal law with impunity. Well, there's that whole "Gunwalker" thing, and now they're creating a gun registry.

Which is a violation of federal law. But they're the police, right?


* * *

Promethean science fiction is not in style.

It was out of style in the 1970s, too. Same reason: the economy was shitty and we had thousands of commie-lib doomsayers talking down the future.

My own work tends to be promethean, for a few reasons:

1) I don't like depressing stories.

2) I like stories about people accomplishing cool things.

3) Dystopian and epimethean stories tend to be boring.

4) I can't stand stories where the protagonist is a bad guy or "anti-hero".

Okay, Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly is neither a bad guy nor an "anti-hero"--just take a look at the story wherein he and his crew steal some pharmaceuticals...and then gives them back when he learns that they were slated for a town hard-hit by an epidemic of fatal disease. He incurs the wrath of a seriously bad person in the process. A real "anti-hero" would have said, "ah, too bad, so sad!" and delivered his cargo to the real bad guy badass.

Malcolm Reynolds is a guy living in circumstances which require a certain...flexibility...when it comes to earing a paycheck. That he is willing to do these things doesn't make him evil; if he were evil he wouldn't have done the right thing in the end even though it earned him the enmity of a powerful and viscious person.

But in too many stories these days, the creators concentrate on the bad guy and elevate him to protagonist--sometimes relegating the good guy to the role of antagonist. This kind of story has its place in the ouerve of human artwork but it should always be a cautionary tale--ie "don't do this"--rather than "hey, isn't this awesome?"

One of the most interesting epiphanies I had about the Star Wars universe was that--"from a certain point of view", to borrow a phrase--Luke Skywalker and his buddies were the bad guys. They were in rebellion against the legitimate (however totalitarian) government of the galaxy, after all.

The whole issue comes down to one of discernment. In SW, Luke et al are in the right because the Galactic Empire was in fact solely an edifice to Palpatine's desire for power and control.

(Somewhere in there is a discussion of why Palpatine's entire scheme was completely, totally pointless...but much of that stems from the fact that George Lucas is incompetent.)

Moorcock's Elric saga is a good example. It set the tone for fantasy fiction to this day, being full of unsavory characters you wouldn't want to associate with in real life. Elric himself comes from an evil culture.

Side note: there's a scene where Moorcock talks about a musical instrument made of slaves. Each slave has been surgically altered to scream in register, and the instrument is played by inflicting pain on the slaves so they scream.

This is what that scene made me think of (skip to 1:35 to see what I mean):


...where was I? I got distracted by muppets.

Anyway, one of the big reasons I can't get into fantasy comes from this: lots of fantasy is just seriously depressing.

* * *

As I said, I got distracted by muppets.

#3325: Somebody get these f-ing jelly beans away from me.

One of the impulse buys from K-mart the other day--holy crap, it was just yesterday!--was a bag of jelly beans. I should not have bought them; they're pure sugar.

Okay: chocolate is one thing. It's not just sugar; it's fat, too, and if it's milk chocolate it even includes some protein. (I know, I know, "not a significant source of protein", but come on--milk has protein in it.)

Jelly beans? The ingredients start with "sugar, corn syrup, modified food starch"--all three of which are carbohydrates, and in the case of the first two items they are simple carbohydrates.

I really don't need that.

I bought them with the expectation that I would be able to take or leave them. Over the past few years my sweet tooth has become less powerful, to the point that I've still got chocolate covered cherries left over from Christmas. I just don't crave a lot of sweet stuff any more, mainly because of my chronic hypoglycemia.

...except, apparently, for jelly beans. *sigh* Well, once this bag is gone there won't be any more in this house for at least a year.

* * *

Karl Denninger has not been on my blogroll for very long, which is probably why I didn't know about his prediction regarding the TSA.

...but it makes sense, doesn't it? If TSA personnel can steal stuff from peoples' luggage and get it out of the airport without being detected, then they could just as easily smuggle something into peoples' luggage.

With the right preparation and networking, they could easily move contraband all over the country right under everyone's nose.

Have a guy in Los Angeles slip bags of cocaine into luggage bound for Chicago and identify the bags by slapping some kind of distinctive sticker on them. At Chicago, have another TSA guy intercept the luggage and pull the coke out (and the stickers off) before the bags are put on the carousel.

...the only bar to this is that there'd have to be someone in charge of the TSA guys at the receiving end, so that the TSA guys could be "ordered" to retrieve the shipment. But most people can be bought, and there's enough money in drugs that just about everyone that isn't Jesus Christ Himself could be.

But Denninger mentions a far more insidious thing: putting a bomb in someone's luggage.

Obviously the TSA guys can move contraband in and out of the airport; that's been proven all too many times. So if a muslim terrorist joined the TSA, it would be a trivial exercise for him to get a bomb (or the parts thereof, for on-site assembly) into the airport and tuck the thing into an unsuspecting person's checked luggage.

A few hours later, bang, the airplane blows up and domestic air travel takes another massive hit. Orchestrated properly, a bunch of airplanes blow up at about the same time, all over the country.

TSA isn't about travel safety; it's all about training Americans to waive their civil rights without complaint.

* * *

EPA and its jackbooted thugs.

* * *

This link came from AoSHQ and it's a lib complaining that "John Edwards Makes Rush Limbaugh Look Like a Feminist".

What led me to post about this crud was this:
[John Edwards] put himself at the center when his girlfriend got pregnant with their child (which raises another question in the area of self-centeredness: Has the man never heard of wearing a condom?)
See, I don't think John Edwards was in the right in any of this. The guy was cheating on his wife, hospitalized with cancer; he's a skunk, and nothing but.

...but how do we know what John Edwards did or didn't do with regards to birth control?

If Rielle Hunter told him she was on birth control--and if she rejected condom use, evincing anger ("You don't trust me! Why don't you trust me??") it's easy to see how the guy could figure, "Well, she's on the Pill, and it's easier just to go along with her than argue about this bullshit.")

Only she ends up pregnant because she's not on the Pill.

Look: it's not a secret among people how you make babies. It's one thing for young teenagers to think sex is just about feeling good, not making babies (after all, that's what the media and their sex education courses are teaching them) but after you've graduated from college you're supposed to know better: sex is for making babies and you've got a good chance of making one every time you have unprotected sex.

Birth control pills cost around $10 per month (Sandra Fluke notwithstanding) and the sexually active womam who does not use the Pill is trying to get pregnant, whether she admits it to anyone--herself included--or not.

Sorry: I don't buy the idea that John Edwards was "selfish" for not wearing a condom. This isn't the 1950s and there's no social stigma attached to women being on the Pill. Especially since some women use it for other medical reasons, not just for contraception. Okay, the woman who sleeps around and ends up pregnant because she won't take the pill? She's stupid--if she did not want to get pregnant--but it does not make the man "selfish" because he didn't wear a condom.

There's plenty of evidence in this story for John Edwards to be selfish, but continuing his campaign and not wearing a condom are not it. The former could have been a decision made between him and his wife. The latter could have been due to any number of reasons, from the simple to the idiotic. But there is no obvious reduction of the latter to "John Edwards is selfish".

To be honest, I think Rielle Hunter's plan was to get John Edwards to knock her up so that she could be his wife after Edwards' wife died. I think this because she obviously was not using any birth control herself. Whatever failings John Edwards may have as a person, I sincerely doubt he's stupid enough to have completely unprotected sex with a woman who is not his wife when he's running for President and his wife's in the hospital with cancer. I'd bet my bottom dollar he thought she was taking the pill.

Point is, no one in this sordid, stupid tale is blameless. They're all a bunch of shitheads who need to be whacked repeatedly with the 400 pound grouper of common sense.

* * *

Guess what? Svensmark Hypothesis also explains the mass extinctions in Earth's history.
An amusing point is that Svensmark stands the currently popular carbon dioxide story on its head. Some geoscientists want to blame the drastic alternations of hot and icy conditions during the past 500 million years on increases and decreases in carbon dioxide, which they explain in intricate ways. For Svensmark, the changes driven by the stars govern the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Climate and life control CO2, not the other way around.
...which explains why the ice core data shows CO2 concentrations lagging global temperature, not leading it.

Via Borepatch, who says, "Rather than the rococo climate models, brimming with epicyclic escape clauses, "gridding", "adjusting", and "smoothing", you have a simple hypothesis that maps very, very closely to a data set that stretches back a half billion years."

Human carbon emissions cause climate change: myth busted, bitches!