"Libro al viento" (Book on the Wind) and other mobile books An article about mini-libraries and book dispensers in public transit stations. A really neat and simple idea.

Collapse Roger Ebert's review of a movie interview with Michael Ruppert and unrelated to Jared Diamond's book Collapse. In it, he spells out a lot of the worst case scenario results of Peak Oil, when demand for oil outstrips the speed we can dig up oil, because the easy oil's gone. Chances are, we're there, or will be there soon, and are headed down the far side of the Hubbert curve. It's not a pretty picture, and check out the wikipedia article for more about Peak Oil. A lot of it's scary, because we've built our civilization on oil, both for energy and for lots of our stuff.

And Peak Oil's just one of the many problems we are headed into. We should have been using the easy oil to set ourselves up for when it wasn't easy any more, sort of like investing lottery winnings in stuff that'll work when the lottery money is gone. I think we still can, but it's a lot harder now than it would have been if we'd started forty years ago.
Somewhere along the line, I seem to have once again become what I was years ago. A space nerd who wants to save the world. Naive? Sure. Idealistic? Duh. But so what? It's better than the alternative. I may not be the astronaut, but I never really figured I would be. Right now, I just want to keep things working well enough that some day, my kids or their kids or however many generations get to reach that glorious dawn. I have a goal, and that beats the pants off just living to make the next payment on $item.
Masters in Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Just a brief overview article, here as much for me as anything else, as that's exactly the sort of thing I want to do.

First Earth-like Planet Spotted Outside Solar System Likely a Volcanic Wasteland "When scientists confirmed in October that they had detected the first rocky planet outside our solar system, it advanced the longtime quest to find an Earth-like planet hospitable to life. The rocky planet CoRoT-7 b is, however, a forbidding place. If its orbit is not almost perfectly circular, then the planet might be undergoing continuous, fierce volcanic eruptions, according to information presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting."

What Happened to the Hominids Who May Have Been Smarter Than us? "Two neuroscientists say that a now-extinct race of humans had big eyes, child-like faces, and an average intelligence of around 150, making them geniuses among Homo sapiens."

Return of the Fungi "Paul Stamets is on a quest to find an endangered mushroom that could cure smallpox, TB, and even bird flu. Can he unlock its secrets before deforestation and climate change wipe it out?"
Most of you probably know, or at least know of, Bruce Sterling, the science fiction author, famous for cyberpunk novels. He's also been a general futurist, ranter, cyber civil libertarian, and general internet opinion guy. He also basically started the whole Bright Green movement with his Viridian Manifesto which was part of the kickoff of the Viridian Project. I'm not going to summarize the whole Viridian project, in part because I was never an active participant, just followed from a distance.

The Viridian project is over, at least in that form, and the Last Note is full of good advice, not all of which I've yet been able to follow. At the very least, it crystallized my desire to get a multitool, a present from my parents last Christmas, and one from my wife this year for my birthday. And much of what he says of it is true, because carrying it has changed how I look at things. Loose threads do get cut, loose screws get fixed, and I have to remember to leave it behind before I go to the courthouse these days. And after moving, I really do appreciate the advice to get rid of stuff you don't need or use. That's one of the goals unpacking.

And it includes another formulation of the Samuel Vimes Boots Theory of Socio-Economic Injustice.
A few years ago, while I was traveling across the country, I was also reading David Brin's Earth (obligatory Amazon link), and I realized what I wanted to do with my life.

I want to save the world.

Or, at least, I want to hack the world. I'm only being slightly melodramatic when I say that, too. Truly, there's nothing we humans can (yet) do to the entire world, it's a giant ball of molten rock and metal, even all our nukes couldn't do much more than scratch the surface. So, yeah, the Earth itself? It'll be fine.

Our civilization, however, may not. So that's what made me decided on what I wanted to study and head back to school, not just take the random gen-ed classes any more. Now I'm trying to finish up engineering, the large scale kind, buildings and cities and regions and things. Our systems are big.

Hacking the whole world is a big project, which will need lots of help. It's the ultimate open-source project, too! Everyone is contributing already. But if you walk into a project without an idea where you're going, you're going to end up making mistakes until you figure things out, and then you're going to have to fix them to get where you wanted to go. And so far we've been all too often bumbling in the dark, and making some awful big mistakes. I wanna help clean those up, and keep from making them again.

But where do I want to go? Well, I've been shorthanding it as the "Star Trek Future", not because I want or expect anything exactly like Star Trek to happen, but because it's more familiar than terms like Bright Green Future as coined by the folks over at Worldchanging. Since it's what I'm devoting a lot of time and thought to, it ought to be reflected here, too.

That didn't come out quite as clear as I was hoping. I'm going to spend the next few posts hopefully clarifying, starting with the twin poles of where we ought to be going, and where we are now, some of which I covered in a post a while ago about the Grim Meathook Future. There's a few other snippets on these thoughts all tagged as "the future", including this one about defining win conditions.

One final thought, from Finite and Infinite Games. Finite games are played until somebody "wins" and the game ends. An infinite game's whole purpose is to keep the game going. Life is an infinite game.


Sep. 25th, 2009 02:03 pm
Every so often, there's moments that remind me we're living in the future.

For example: Footage from Apollo missions on YouTube.

There's no good reason why it wouldn't be on YouTube, but it's something that never occurred to me. I can watch films from 40 years ago, on the moon, on my laptop.

Humans like to divide things into twos, it makes for nice simple binary choices. How well that reflects reality is debatable, but let's choose two extremes for our discussion here, to start with.

The first is the future you often see profiled on the TV news, in far away countries, when some celebrity hasn't died, no blonde-haired white ladies have gone missing, and there's been no shark attacks for at least a week. That's the Grim Meathook Future, a term I first hear via Warren Ellis, and was originated by a man named Joshua Ellis, whose original post seems to have been eated by something. But the Grim Meathook Future is, well, exactly what it says on the tin. It's the depressing, violent, chaotic, deadly future that's now, in a lot of the world. Wars over religion, wars over water, wars over oil, wars over minerals, wars over the last war. Poverty, famine, the rest of it. And then on top of this, throw in climate change screwing up weather patterns, rising sea levels, peak oil, all that kind of fun stuff.

It's the not fun, not shiny, and it's REALLY easy to look at all that, and make generalizations about "The Poor" or people in foreign countries, or whatever.

That's the worst case scenario. And it's unfortunately close to the Way Things Are in large parts of the world.

The second of these I've posted about before, it's the optimistic shiny future I've been shorthanding as a Star Trek Future. Peace, prosperity, and post-scarcity.

Exactly what form the future's gonna take, I can't really say. I don't think anybody can, there's too many variables dependent on too many things. Even without invoking The Singularity, changes ARE happening faster, because there's more people, more tech, and we have more influence over the world. That means more stuff happens.

The real future is likely to combine elements of utopian and grim meathooks, plus certainly things we aren't even considering right now.

There is one thing about the Grim Meathook Future, though. Most of the problems, we have the technological know-how to fix. We CAN fix many of these things. We're not lacking the knowledge, we're lacking the organization, resource, or the ability to convince anybody they can make money off it.
A post, over on Salon, called "The Utopian Economics of "Star Trek" lays out part of the foundation for a Star Trek future. The defining part of the Star Trek future, for me, is the optimism of it. Part of the optimism is Star Trek is a future largely without scarcity. Even before the replicators of TNG, most resources are easily available. The only limits are energy, and some rare elements, especially the dilithium, the handwavium that makes the nearly-limitless energy available. And once most things aren't scarce, current economics falls apart, as the cots of everything would approach 0.

Which, frankly, is not really that unreasonable, for a spacefaring civilization that's managed to spread beyond a single solar system. Think of the Kardashev scale. The Federation's obviously at least Type II.

To get to a Star Trek future, there's lots of problems to be solved, some technological, but just as many social, political, economic, and everything else. There's room for everybody to work to make a better world.
"Think of it. We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth a chance. We know now what we could never have known before-that we now have the option for all humanity to "make it" successfully on this planet in this lifetime. Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will b a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment."  — R. Buckminster Fuller

Though the quote makes me wonder about my choice of vocation, because we have all the technology we need to make all this happen. What we're lacking is the will, and the models, and the explanations, and the incentives. That's what we need to change. The systems.


May. 16th, 2008 01:22 pm
"So-called "global warming" is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st-century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don't let them get away with it."
- Chip Giller, Founder of Grist.org

(via a Starbucks cup, examples here.)

A Question

Mar. 27th, 2008 10:20 pm
What kind of future do you want to live in? What does it look like? How does it happen? What does it mean? How does it smell? What does it sound like?

Not the kind of future you think we're headed to, or the future you dread, the future you want to live in. I want to define win conditions, a thread of an idea I stole from WorldChanging.
Infrastructure for the Future We Want over at Worldchanging.

That's the kind of work I want to do. That's what I went back to school to learn how to do. And we need to do it soon. The US infrastructure needs about $1.6 trillion in repairs and upgrades, and that's just using the most conventional estimates by people like the American Society of Civil Engineers. I suspect a lot of the stuff they suggest is probably not a good idea, like more highways, or can be done better and newer. That's a lot of money.

About half the amount we're spending on the war in Iraq. Just for the US.

Which is also just about 1000 times more than George Bush promised us it'd cost when he started his war.
Between Peak Oil, global warming, authoritarian regeimes that control most of the world's oil, and many other factors, we can't keep depending on oil (especially gas) as the fuel to run the country. So what do we replace it with? Well, we can't just replace it with one thing. There's no single fuel source that can easily replace oil. We're going to have to replace it with many things.

Ethanol probably shouldn't be one of them.

On the other hand, things like biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil are good. Gets at least one more use out of things that would otherwise be thrown away. Ideally, there should be no such thing as waste, everything should go back either as food for new manufacturing, or degrade to be food for growing more food.

More on this later.



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