Monday, March 30, 2009

What I'm reading now.

How hard can it be to make a grilled cheese sandwich from scratch? Wow, this is turning out to be a much bigger problem then I thought.

So a few days ago I saw a really good TEDtalk by Peter Reinhart

My wife can make a really good loaf of french style bread. But we are looking at going more whole grain-y. So we got his book "Whole Grain Bread: New Techniques. Extraordinary Flavor." Imagine my surprise when I discover that after 6000 years of bread making no one has done a deep and thorough scientific study of bread and bread making. He comes closest but it looks as though there is still some ways to go and it butts up against some of the limits of human knowledge as well.
Of course, after thinking about it I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Why study something as old and familiar as bread? An arrogant blind spot.

I have read the first couple of chapters and I am learning lots.
There are about a dozen species of grains used.
How it is farmed sets its protein content.
Milling is a lot more complex then running it between a couple of spinning rocks or metal plates.
Commercial flour comes with specification sheets with tips on how many rotations it needs in a commercial mixer!?
Yeast is a major topic as well. I know the bakers group in San Francisco has studies yeast deeply so I'll have to look them up.
And now we can finally talk about the 12 stages of bread making.

Actually this is a great place to start studying. Bread has been a foundation stone for many cultures for 600 years. It covers farming, a very basic activity, and milling, a simple industrial activity, yeast biology and enzyme action for the leavening of the bread, and thermodynamics for the baking of the bread.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rocks Don't Need to Be Backed Up

Rocks Don't Need to Be Backed Up: "As we stood wondering at this archaeological marvel, my wife, ever mindful of how I spend the bulk of my time, blurted out, 'Rocks do not need backing up!'"

Well, that is not quite correct. I've been to Egypt and there is a lot of sand there and there is a lot of wind sometimes and there are plenty of rocks there that used to have writings on them.

On the other hand the Rosetta project sounds interesting.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Personal Factory

I had seen something like this in a lab and it was the size of his whole shop. I didn't know it was now as small as refrigerator and cost so little. The Star Trek replicator is getting closer and closer, if not quite the same.

Marginal Revolution: Fiscal stimulus and German unification

Marginal Revolution: Fiscal stimulus and German unification: "For all the talk about the Great Depression, we are missing one historical analogy for a program of large fiscal stimulus, namely Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. The two countries united, lots of money was spent and lots of money was borrowed. West Germany had a modern economy with both manufacturing and services."

There is certainly a difference when a small country and most of the planet is involved with something like this. My relatives that were in East Germany did like the reunificaiton generally but there were lots of problems going through it.

But then that was going from communist to somewhat free market. We appear to be going the other way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seth's Blog: The right size

Seth's Blog: The right size: "Ford Motor used to hire shepherds to tend Ford sheep on Ford land so they could weave Ford fabric to put on the seats of Ford cars. Today, of course, that's crazy. One day soon there will be car companies that have 200 employees."

It seems to come down to do anything for that thing's sake, is just insane. How big a company needs to be will change as the economy changes.

In the 1970's the US was the world's largest creditor and 20 years later we were the largest debtor. That was fast. The economy is distorted, but by how much and where is an issue. Taxes and regulations are certainly part of it, probably more so then the cheap labour offshore, but social attitudes as well.

Division of Labour: Downloadable Free Banking in Britain

Division of Labour: Downloadable <i>Free Banking in Britain</i>: "I inquired at the Institute of Economic Affairs, publishers of the 2nd edition of my Free Banking in Britain, whether they might not like to unload some of their unsold book stock at the Forum. Turns out they didn’t have any. Now they’ve heroically made the title available again, not only as hard copy for �10 through print-on-demand, but also as a free PDF download (13.55MB)"

Economics is a big deal. This is certainly interesting to me.

A lesson learned from the present is that big companies are not the best thing to have they exert control over the marketplace and the government to create artificial barriers to entry.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


As I am exploring the history of civilization and trying to understand the major turning points I noticed things exploded after the introduction of electricity. Once you get a significant portion of the population off of food production duty civilization really takes off.

A lot of the real progress in creating leisure time came after the introduction of electricity.
You had the light bulb to increase the time available for doing things after dark.
You had the electric motor, that alone powers virtually everything that isn't light.
Finally you have the transistor that allows you to make computers and make everything smart.

The lightbulb increases the useful amount of the day you can use and gives you enough light to do useful things. Candles are not really enough to do more then allow you to see others and move from place to place but not read or do detailed work.

The electric motor that runs the clothes washer, the dryer, the dishwasher, the mixer, the blender, the fan, the vacuum, the Walkman, the CD player, the iPod classic, the garage door opener, the Prius, &etc. When the electric motor was first invented people thought they would have one large motor in the basement or somewhere and everything would be run from it by belts, like in the big factories they were retrofitting from the old waterwheel based ones they were replacing. It turns out that lots of little ones in everything is better.

Transistors use electricity too and they let you make things smart. A combination of sensors and transistors allow you to make machines that are pretty smart and very safe and energy efficient. They even let you make light (LEDs) and electricity (solar panels)

Monday, March 23, 2009

What food is in season and where

NRDC: Eat Local: "When we shop at the grocery store today, we don't bat an eye at the sight of strawberries in the winter or perfect tomatoes from Holland. In the space of a generation, we've become accustomed to eating food that's never grown roots in local soil. In fact, most produce grown in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets sold." For Farmer's market information try LocalHarvest.

While I am sure that the Raw Food movement will vanish, if we do have dark ages 2.0 we'll all be eating local, but it would be very helpful to know what could be grown in your area. I would love to find something like this for the whole world. 

Food has been traveling a lot since the invention of the refrigerated steam ship, railroad car and truck. 

It boils down to having cheap energy and cheap iron, as most ships, locomotives, railcars and trucks are primarily made from steel. Yes, there is plenty of other stuff in them like plastic but for sheer weight most of it is in steel. 

The refrigerated steamships were coal powered, somewhat dirty but very effective, they could be cleaned up with a bit of work. 

Personally, I think oil is too useful to waste it by burning it, it is much better to use it in chemical processes for plastics and the like. 

When it comes right down to it, the big thing about an advanced civilization is minimizing the number of people growing food and maximizing thinking time for everyone. We waste far too much time on what amounts to busyness.

Friday, March 20, 2009

10 Places You Don’t Want To Live |

10 Places You Don’t Want To Live |

American Adults Flunk Basic Science

American Adults Flunk Basic Science: "Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water.*
Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly."

This is the silliest thing. It is more often what you don't know that kills you.  It is not like these things weren't talked about in elementary school. 
I certainly don't expect most people to be able to be able to make a car from iron ore but they should have some understanding of basic science. Most people have no idea how virtually anything around them works. 
There was the time in some megamart that the lights went out and some poor lady started screaming like crazy, prepared people whipped out their cellphones and she calmed down but that reaction was totally out of proportion to the event, it's not like there was earth movement or the roof caving in.

via kottke

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Futures both Bright and Dark

Sometimes the future looks dark and sometimes bright, but it is not the technology that is important it's the people and the people pulling on the levers of power are acting like drunken lemurs.

With The Fed buying debt from the Treasury and "printing" $1,000,000,000,000,000 to do it. It becomes obvious we are in deep trouble. They may be able to sorta save the economy by turning off the presses at the right time, but being human they probably won't, I just hope they are pretty close. We can all hope for a hole-in-one but I am just praying for them to get it on the green, and am preparing in case they slice it into the sand trap. 

I am looking for this to be a Plan B or C. Like a fire extinguisher I hope it never needs to be used.

One of the hard problems is just a pure storage question. I would love to see this etched into something that will last for the long term, like metal plates. Gold would be great but is too expensive right now and too valuable generally, stainless steel or anodized aluminum might be better. 

Peacekeeping: The Secrets Of Iraq

Peacekeeping: The Secrets Of Iraq: "The major obstacle to peace in Iraq is still corruption, and the lack of things we take for granted in the West. The main problem is the absence of what is called 'civil society.' In short, this means that a majority of the people support clean and efficient government, and energetically back honest politicians, and denigrate dishonest ones."

This is probably one of the hardest things to overcome in rebuilding civilization. Technology is easy but people are tough.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Open Sewers Of The World.

Open Sewers Of The World.: "Here are some pictures of other parts of the world that shows the reality too."

These are a little rough to look at. While for a long time this has been typical of what humanity has been using but it just doesn't scale. This almost works when populations are small and the environment can adsorb it but at the scale of millions of people the environment is overwhelmed. This is also a prime source for disease. 

Come on the Romans figured this out over 2000 years ago and we still haven't got the entire planet up to that tech level yet. How stupid!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why China Will Continue to Buy U.S. Treasuries -- Seeking Alpha

Why China Will Continue to Buy U.S. Treasuries -- Seeking Alpha: "What's the risk of some kind of serious instability inside China? Could there be another event like Tiananmen Square in 1989? A lot of people are unemployed. Not just rural labor. We're talking about highly educated college grads. When enough of them can't find jobs, they'll look for something to do."

The UK Telegraph says that there are about 6,000,000 graduates this year. If I remember correctly China graduates about 600,000 engineers every year. That is a lot of very dangerous people. Engineers know how to do things. There will likely be a point where someone asks a question to a room of how to do something technical and some engineer will say, sure I can do that. And you'll end up with a trebuchet able to launch a Fuel-air explosive package. 

If only 1% of these graduates do something that means 60,000 people are doing something. That doesn't count all the other people they have out of work. 

Does this mean revolution in China, probably not, but it does mean change.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Inspiration

One of the things that has inspired me to create this blog was Glenn Beck. For the last couple of years he's been inspiring us to get up and do something and today we the brave all got together in a nice little cafe in Denver and listened to his We Surround Them show. There were nearly 200 people there and it was pretty good. Found a fellow ham and met some interesting people. It is good not to feel along.

But not only that there is also Jerry Pournelle. Who overcame cancer last year and sees that there is a possibility of a new dark ages. He doesn't have the income to write a doomsday book but I am starting this instead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Washing machine liberated women most?

Washing machine liberated women most?: "'What in the 20th century did more to liberate Western women?,' asks the article, which was written by a woman.
'The debate is heated. Some say the pill, some say abortion rights and some the right to work outside the home. Some, however, dare to go further: the washing machine,' it says."

I would concur with that.
The old fashioned way was to take your clothes to the river and hit them on rocks for a while, eventually the rock was replaced by a washboard. I remember when having rippling abs was called washboard abs, not their called 6 pack abs, but when I was young we meant that the person had a beer belly. Weird how language changes.
Back in the Victorian era You would start laundry "day" on Friday night with an overnight soak with soda crystals, On Saturday you'd agitate and boil your clothes to get out the dirt, and they would have to dry for Sunday and for Monday you'd have to spend the day ironing to smooth them all out.
And now with electric motors, pumps and electronics you can wash and dry laundry in about 2 hours.
This is a massive savings of labor. The dishwasher is pretty good too and also adds the extra bonus of sanitizing your dishes which reduces infection.
Need to go with more detail here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the study of War

MERCENARIES AND MILITARY VIRTUE : "To stand on the firing parapet and expose yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when you’re all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your hands and lower the pike, to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the King, to be rear guard at Kunu-ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead drill; these are not rational acts.

They are often merely necessary."

The liberal left definitely despises our soldiers, and as they control the vast majority of the media this is what most of us see. This is a bad thing. Put this together with the international blunders of the last week one has to wonder about what is happening.

Further First Amendment Attacks

The Founders knew they needed a moral people to maintain and defend freedom. They didn't want to offend anyone so they talked broadly about the God of Nature. But now people are acting as if freedom of religion should be freedom from religion. And that the establishment clause that was to prevent a pope-king from getting in control of the country's religion has turned into a messiah-president and the disestablishment of religion.

The general ridicule of religion in the main stream media (MSM) has been going on for some time has appeared to have weakened church attendance.

Recently the attacks on religion and morality have been kicked up a notch with same-sex marriage and with Connecticut preposing legislation to take control of the Catholic church's finances, and if they control the money they control the whole thing, duh.

So what happens instead of your inalienable rights coming from God, your provisional rights come from the State, who can alter or revoke them at any time. Suddenly you are Lando dealing with Vader on Bespin.

The communist countries tried to replace religion with the State and it didn't work out so well. They finally fell and fell hard over the course of less then a week.

The Soviet Union was poor, and not because of their lack of natural resources (they have huge reserves) or the lack of intellectual talent (their computer scientists were able to figure out and program stolen computers that often arrived without manuals, have you tried running a command line interface lately?). Obviously they had a problem with their economies and a lack of basic freedom was it.

It is interesting to realize that communist countries only had one primary city that concentrated most everything except the really nasty industries. In Soviet Russia the Government, Money and Innovation were all concentrated in Moscow, in the capitalist countries they tend to be in widely separated cities. And they both happened that way because that is how they developed.

I remember in Germany they had a Religion tax, that they used to run the state religion. Charitable giving was pretty low because it was perceived that the government was taking money for religious reasons, which would use it for charity. It did work out that way. State Religion overhead for some reason tends to run pretty high. It was like any other bureaucracy it existed to sustain and grow itself and kept the charitable giving to the minimum necessary to keep it in the news and the appearance of doing something.

In a free society you cannot make people be religious, you shouldn't have to encourage or discourage it just stay out of the way, except when people start trampling on each others rights like killing them for leaving the religion. Obviously this treads on their right to life and the government can step in, but don't step in if someone wants to leave and does.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Acquire an Elite College Education for Less�Than�$7000 by Joe O'Donnell

How to Acquire an Elite College Education for Less�Than�$7000 by Joe O'Donnell: "Here are the 7 books, in the order they should be studied:

Complete Works of Shakespeare or part of that in combination with a literary anthology to be assigned by a tutor. Be sure to get plenty of writing assignments. 5 months.
History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. Engage in a lot of Socratic Dialogue. 5 months.
The Making of the Modern Mind by Randall. Engage in a lot of Socratic Dialogue. 5 months.
Man, Economy and State by Rothbard. Engage in a lot of Socratic Dialogue. 5 months.
What Is Mathematics by Courant and Robbins. Work every problem and ask for additional ones. 5 months.
Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Abelson, Sussman and Sussman. Work every problem and ask for additional ones. 8 months.
Lectures on Physics by Feynman. Work every problem and ask for additional ones. 10 months.
By claiming your inheritance of human achievement in truth, knowledge, science, virtue and art, you will also be well prepared for a glorious future of achieving freedom and prosperity."

This is certainly a good list to start with. For rebooting civilization you could do worse.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Vision Thing

The goal behind this is to stash vitally important information necessary for the re-establishment of a free and prosperous society. Again, I don't think a new dark ages is likely, but it is a small possibility now, and it is easier to prepare for it now then to try and stuff some random books into a safe and bury it later.

Ideally the information would be laser etched into metal plates and dozens of copies buried around the world. Gold would be the ideal material as it doesn't corrode over time, but stainless steel might be better as it has relatively little value.
Laser etching allows us to write very small, we could even include a magnifying glass to make it easier to read.

The first section might have to be a language tutorial, because we just don't know how language will change. Best to make it easy for those who come later. Reminder to self: talk to people who have translated ancient dead languages and what would make it easier for someone to do it if we do it deliberately.
The second section might be about government. While it would be tempting to give them just the Constitution it might be better to go a similar route the founders took of the major documents of the Enlightenment and let them figure it out for themselves. With some lessons learned essays as well.
The third section would be about science and technology. While I doubt we would regress to the Stone Age it is probably better not to take chances and give more information then less. Detailed instructions from stone knives and bearskins to steam engines, transistors and space flight. This will take a lot of research and probably will need to be focused and a lot of help.

I am beginning to wonder if a wiki might be a better way of doing this. I need help on this and a blog probably isn't the best way to do it. But I have to start somewhere, and this is as good a place as any.
Let's roll.

Survival Priorities

For a person there is a rule of threes for survival:

3 minutes without air
3 hours without shelter
3 days without water
3 weeks without food
3 months without hope

Is there an equivalent for a civilization? Maybe but not in the same way, many cities survived smog, even London had a smog so bad it killed hundreds if not thousands of people. A city doesn't die just because of bad air. But people are much more productive with clean air.

Good shelter helps too, right now we are living in an apartment that isn't so great it has lots of little annoyances, they are not big things but occasionally they really drive me crazy and I wonder if these annoyances are hurting us.

Clean water for a civilization is vital. New York City finally put in a real water system after a few outbreaks of typhus and cholera and no way to clean things up. Also being ankle deep in horse poo was a problem.

Most cities don't have much in the way of food reserves. Just look at what happens before a hurricane or after a blizzard, the stores are emptied of food.

This is rambling a bit but the idea is to have a prosperous civilization we need to show ways to meet these basic needs on macro level and not just the personal level.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The importance of Public Hygiene
: "The toll on human health is grim. Every day, 1,000 children younger than 5 years old die in India from diarrhea, hepatitis- causing pathogens and other sanitation-related diseases, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund."

This tells us just how important public sanitation is. Indians leave 100,000 tons of human excrement in their food producing fields every day. The US has recalled how many tons of peanuts that was contaminated.

My Oma in East Germany had a toilet that just had a hatch that dumped into the basement. It was like an indoor latrine. You had a small bucket of water and a brush to push all of it down and a small open gas flame burner to keep the gas build up under control. OSHA would have elephants over the arraignment but that is what they used for decades.

Heck, we're fighting hospital superbugs on cellphones.

Wash your hands after going to the bathroom!

The ancient Romans knew better. They had reservoirs and aqueducts even hot and cold running water, evan an enclosed sewer system. Why did we forget that?

It seems simple enough. Collect water high up in the mountains, add chorine and fluoride. Run an aqueduct to your city and to the homes of your people. Make sure people have toilets that flush. have an enclosed sewer system to contain the black water finally clean the black water and release back into the wild.

Okay, it is more detailed then that but I'll need some help here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Scope of the Problem

The basic idea I want to accomplish is a book that contain the core knowledge and principles for reestablishing a free and prosperous society after an extended dark age, where we have forgotten not only how we've done something but that we have ever done something.

Losing the technology for space flight is not hard and it would not take more then 3-4 generations before we would forget that we had ever landed men on the Moon.

While I am not sure we could ever lose semiconductor technology, it would be easy enough to lose the high-end. Semiconductor fabs cost billions of dollars and are giant clean rooms. It would not take too many incompetent people to reduce the yield to the point it is no longer profitable to run them. The tiny die sizes today are easily disrupted by dust, but the technologies of the '70's are more robust. Dropping back to that era in electronics would be annoying but for most things acceptable.

In general it is possible to lose the high end of any field pretty quickly followed by a long slow decline.

Consider I, Pencil an economist attempted to figure out how a simple pencil was made. Bottom line, it is a whole lot more difficult then it looks.

I just ran across someone trying to make his own toaster, from scratch. Getting ahold of the iron ore wasn't too hard, smelting into iron ingots, quite a bit more challenging.

One of my wife's favorite shows is 1900 House, their most important technology was the kitchen stove, it was heat and food and hot water from them. But the thing they missed most was good soap, detergent and shampoos. It presupposes a municipal water and gas supply and a sewage system.

Not only technology but a governmental and economic system to allow that to be built. The Romans built a great public water system that was not exceeded until the addition of chlorination and fluoridation.

The US Constitution is a great way to run a country but it needs some tweaking since I doubt the Founders had considered some of the changes we've seen over time. Professional politicians are a problem, term limits would be a really good place to start, but the real problem is the bureaucracy, I'm not sure how to deal with that.

So after all that rambling the things that seem important are:
A governmental system that allows for personal freedom and defense of property.
An economic system that allows for easy transactions.
A level of technology that allows for long life and an abundance of food and energy.

This is looking to be a big project.

From Impossible to Possible

The world economy and politics are doing things that are throwing red flags up for me.

The field is being shaped for a global reserve currency and obviously a global government to manage it. Look at Gordon Brown.
That would mean that there would be no place outside of that government. The economy around the world is burning down. Given that currently that Europe and Japan are socialist, China and Russia being communist and even the US is tending socialistic as well. Lots of other nations are socialist as well. So a global government would likely be socialist.

Unions are getting new support in the US Congress and so it would be possible for the unions to rebuild the guild system. The guilds kept their techniques under control by passing on death bed secrets. It didn't always work well, Damascus steel being the most obvious example.

There is also a strong anti-intellectual undercurrent out there and that isn't good for innovation either. With the heavy taxes in California Silicon Valley may not last maybe it will be recreated somewhere else, I don't know.

Then you also have the Democrats working on renewing the Fairness Doctrine, one way or another. It is funny that they are working so hard to shutdown the voices of three people on the least effective forms of communication. The lecture format, which is what talk radio is, lets you retain only about 10% after 24 hours, and people usually listen to it while doing something else which makes it even less effective. If you can't stand that little criticism you have problems. But what this boils down to is restriction of the sharing of ideas and that is very bad.

You know, 6 months ago the thought of another Dark Ages was ridiculous, I certainly wouldn't have believed it. But I have been thinking through some possible worst case scenarios, and excluding things such as nuclear war and asteroid impacts, this i about as bad as it could get. While I might think we have a even money on a Great Depression, a Dark Ages is still less then 5%, but that is way up from where it was before. It's like a swarm or earthquakes deep under Yellowstone, it could be nothing but it could be a supervolcano.