We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The efficiency of state space development

Last night, Elon Musk mentioned that the development cost of Falcon Heavy was about $500M, an astonishing sum, until you remember that NASA’s new Space Launch System has consumed about $20B to date and isn’t finished yet. Full development costs for SLS are said to be $35B.

Also, while Falcon Heavy re-uses most of its hardware and costs about $90M a flight, the current quoted SLS flight cost is $500M, and more realistically might reach $1B per flight.

However, while Falcon Heavy can only carry 63 tons to low earth orbit, SLS Block 1 will be able to carry 70 tons.

Eventually, SLS Block 2 will be available, with a payload of 130 tons to LEO. By that time, SpaceX’s BFR, which will be fully reusable, may be in flight. BFR will be able to carry 150 tons to LEO, and is intended to be fully reusable, so a flight may cost as little as a few million dollars — likely under 1/100th of the cost of a flight of SLS Block 2.

Pretty much the coolest thing ever

Pretty much the coolest thing ever… 😎

What is to be done about this blatant sexism?

“I found their disrespect for women very disheartening, perhaps because their overall behavior seems so similar to our own, yet no amount of telling them I’m a professional, responsible, independent adult would change their views.”

What, might you ask, has troubled this person? Let me adumbrate that the writer is (afaik) a woman, remarking on a lack of respect for women, which is not shown to men.

But do not be too concerned, it is not a lack of respect for the particular woman’s professional abilities that drives this, the writer goes on, I parse, for what will be obvious reasons.

…But when the one father in our group approached, they would slink away without putting up a fight. Every time he sat down, they would come bounding back…

So clearly there is sexism going on here. So why isn’t reason working? I have some bad ‘news’ for this disheartened professional.

The disrespectful ones are, it turns out, not going to listen to reason, as they are… baboons (4th answer).

Which gives me an wonderful opportunity to stretch the evolutionary tree and crowbar in Jordan Peterson and Lobsters, watch and treasure, standing up straight with your shoulders back.

All together now: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

Sorry for the unoriginal choice of title. This is about the fourth Samizdata post with a title related to that slogan, and the umpteenth to mention it. Don’t blame us. If the authorities would stop repeatedly proving that slogan to be a cruel travesty, we would be happy to stop going on about it.

Until that day arrives, the Guardian has a good report on the latest example of what innocent people have to fear:

Police made ‘appalling’ errors in using internet data to target suspects

Police have made serious errors getting search warrants for suspected sex offenders, leading to the targeting of innocent people and children being wrongly separated from their parents, an official report has revealed.

The errors – highlighted by the interception of communications commissioner, Sir Stanley Burnton, in his annual report to the prime minister – had “appalling” consequences and related to some of the most intrusive powers the state can use against its citizens.

In one example, two children were separated from their parents for a weekend while the parents were questioned as suspects in a child sexual exploitation case. It later emerged that police had raided the wrong address due to an error on the documentation and the parents were innocent.

Digital devices belonging to innocent people were also forensically examined by police, Burnton said.

The errors identified were mainly because details were wrongly entered into software that helps police work out the location where a specific IP (internet protocol) address has been used.

But IP addresses are routinely reassigned by internet providers. Burnton warned investigators not to rely on them when trying to work out who is hiding behind the anonymity of the internet to commit crimes.

He wrote: “These [errors] are far more common than is acceptable, especially in cases relating to child sex exploitation. The impact on some victims of these errors has been appalling.”

So what should we do about North Korea?

By “we” I mean the American government of course.

Let’s try some Q and A:

Does North Korea currently possess the means to destroy cities in South Korea, Japan and even the United States?
I’m guessing that’s a “no”. My understanding is that building a missile is one thing, building an atomic bomb another thing and combining the two really difficult.

If not, are they likely to acquire those means any time soon?
Well, they seem to have spent a hell of a long time just getting to this stage. So, it could be a while yet.

Were they to acquire them how likely would they be to use them?
I suppose the question here is whether or not the threat of instant nuclear annihilation would deter them. The point is that the Norks are atheists. They do not have a heaven to go to. They want to receive their rewards in this world. There is no upside to being nuked. So, they can be deterred.

Of course, I say they are atheists but their system of government is clearly a hereditary monarchy. Monarchies tend to have gods attached. But as yet (to the best of my knowledge) the Norks haven’t come up with a heaven. But when they do… watch out.

So, the best approach is probably to do nothing and let deterrence do its thing?
Probably. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the US doing the deterring. Japan and South Korea could do much the same, after they had developed nuclear weapons of course.

Getting back to this god stuff, the Iranians aren’t atheists are they?
No they’re not. And they believe in heaven. And they believe they would go to heaven if they nuked Israel. And rumour has it that the Norks are helping them with the tech. But my guess is that the Israelis have the means to deal with this threat before it becomes serious.

So, what you’re saying is that the US’s best approach is to do nothing?
Yes, I guess I am.

I would just add that it is remarkable how difficult smaller tyrannies find it to replicate 60-year old technology.

Wanna see some hot models?

As ever, Paris was the place to see really hot models, but you have missed your chance. A couple of years ago they were basking in the admiration of the world. Now, they are looking a little old. However you can still read about them in today’s Times:

We were wrong — worst effects of climate change can be avoided, say scientists

Catastrophic impacts of climate change can still be avoided, according to scientists who have admitted they were too pessimistic about the chances of limiting global warming.

The world has warmed more slowly than had been predicted by computer models, which were “on the hot side” and overstated the impact of emissions on average temperature, research has found.

New forecasts suggest that the world has a better chance than claimed of meeting the goal set by the Paris Agreement on climate change of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The study, published in the prestigious journal Nature Geoscience, makes clear that rapid reductions in emissions will still be required but suggests that the world has more time to make the necessary changes.

Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change at University College London and one of the study’s authors, admitted that his previous prediction had been wrong.

He stated during the climate summit in Paris in December 2015: “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.”

Emphasis added. Professor Grubb was not alone. An article in New Scientist from December 2015 that included that quote from Professor Grubb also said,

And time has nearly run out for limiting warming to 2 °C. “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late,” climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in the UK told New Scientist on Friday. “It’s a very small window.”

As for 1.5 °C, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”, according to Piers Forster of the University of Leeds. “We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency, housing changes,” he said. “Even international aviation and shipping that were excluded from this report will need to be tackled within the next few years.”

I remain more of a believer in anthropogenic climate change than many here, but after three or four cycles of this, cynicism does creep in. There is the cycle of direct prediction: DOOM BY YEAR X > two years before year X doom has failed to show any sign of arrival > DOOM BY X+10 AND WE TOTALLY HAVE GOT IT RIGHT THIS TIME. As with the lifecycle of the periodical cicada, whole theses could be written about how the the swarming and dying off of predictions of climate doom is correlated with the emergence and retreat of predictions that the only way to avoid climate doom is a globally imposed command economy. There is a long, slow rising line in which something like Professor Forster’s “true world revolution” is more and more incontrovertibly the only chance, until the date it is going to be needed to be done by becomes so close that (a) it obviously ain’t gonna happen, and (b) people start saying that if “our only chance” is something that obviously ain’t gonna happen, we might as well take our tune from the besieged citizens of Jerusalem in Isiah 22:13 and have joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine, for tomorrow we die. At this point the trendline for true world revolution being the only solution falls off a scarp slope and the one for mere socialist austerity just possibly being enough (if we start now) starts to rise.

And that is where we find ourselves with this most recent paper in Nature Geoscience,

Speaking to The Times, he [Professor Grubb] said: “When the facts change, I change my mind, as Keynes said.

That line from Keynes has long bugged me. For every one occasion when the facts truly change there are ten where the facts are the same as ever and all that has changed is that the speaker finally had to stop running away from them. It is a phrase that sounds like open-mindedness, but in fact avoids the need to admit error. Having said that, it is better to make like slippery Keynes than to make your opinions completely impervious to reality, and Professor Grubb has done better than Keynes in that he has said he was wrong.

“It’s still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought.”

Professor Grubb said that the new assessment was good news for small island states in the Pacific, such as the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, which could be inundated by rising seas if the average temperature rose by more than 1.5C.

“Pacific islands are less doomed than we thought,” he said.

Tuvalu’s doom level has been fluctuating since at least 2004.

Professor Grubb added that other factors also pointed to more optimism on climate change, including China reducing its growth in emissions much faster than predicted and the cost of offshore wind farms falling steeply in the UK.

He said: “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris.”

The study found that a group of computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted a more rapid temperature increase than had actually occurred.

The global average temperature has risen by about 0.9C since pre-industrial times but there was a slowdown in the rate of warming for 15 years before 2014.

Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and another author of the paper, said: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”

He said that the group of about a dozen computer models, produced by government research institutes and universities around the world, had been assembled a decade ago “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”.

Here the cynic in me says that it is not that surprising in a different way that a dozen models were all wrong in the same direction. But, again, let us not be too down on Professor Grubb – at least he is partly acknowledging that scientific models are often uncertain, as Michael Jennings drew on his own experience as a research scientist to say on this blog in 2009.

He [Professor Grubb] said that too many of the models used “were on the hot side”, meaning they forecast too much warming.

See, I promised you hot models and here are so many hot models, you may even get tired of hot models.

On the idle hill of summer (1917 style)

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams

A. E. Housman

Now, in 1917 you might not be able to hear the drums but you might – depending on the proximity between your ear and the ground – be able to hear the drumfire:

The Times 24 August 1917 p9. Right click for full article.

Just in case you were wondering 24 June was in the “lull” between the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it is better known.

Automated truck trial

I have written before about automated cars. Today the British government announced that it will allow a trial of automated lorries on motorways to go ahead next year. The idea here is that a human drives one lorry, and automated ones follow close behind, saving the cost of extra drivers and reducing air resistance.

The Automobile Association complains about it.

A platoon of just three HGVs can obscure road signs from drivers in the outside lanes and potentially make access to entries or exits difficult for other drivers. On the new motorways, without hard shoulders, lay-bys are every 1.5 miles. A driver in trouble may encounter difficulties trying to get into a lay-by if it is blocked by a platoon of trucks going past.

I think they are overstating the problem because there are already convoys of human driven lorries on motorways. It is already a good idea not to drive alongside them for any distance. Something I do see as a problem is reported matter-of-factly by the Telegraph:

The Government has provided £8.1 million funding towards the trials, which will initially take place on a test track before being carried out on motorways.

I left this comment on the Telegraph’s news article:

If some private company was spending their own money I would have no complaint. If it is a good idea, people will do it and they will invest their own money in it. I have no idea why the government thinks it is a good idea to hand out free money to anyone who goes begging with the right story.

As for the idea itself, I can imagine it working. The lorries can drive just inches apart so unlike others I think slipstreaming will work and there is little risk of cars getting in between the lorries. Someone asked about trailers and a powered trailer may also work but I can also easily imagine that some electronics would be cheaper than a heavy mechanical coupling.

The real test of the idea is whether someone can make a profit at it with their own money (third party liability included). It is the government subsidy that is causing the controversy here.

I wish I were reading a happier version of this story

Has anyone else been guiltily transfixed by the mystery of Danish inventor Peter Madsen, his now-sunken submarine, and the missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall? I truly do not wish to make light of the fact that a woman is missing, presumed dead, but I was undeniably fascinated by the whole idea of a crowd-sourced, privately built submarine. In any other circumstances I would have been delighted to learn that such a thing existed.

Here are some news reports on the story:

Danish submarine owner arrested over missing journalist

Submarine in missing journalist case sunk on purpose, Danish police say

Kim Wall and Danish submarine: What we know and what we don’t

Police in Two Countries Searching for Woman Missing Since Sub Sank

When commenting, please bear in mind that a criminal investigation is ongoing – and that all should be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

‘Self-driving car’ actually controlled by man dressed up as a car seat

The Guardian has the story, here.

“Look at the phone in your hand – you can thank the state for that”

The title of the piece by Rutger Bregman in today’s Guardian describes its main thrust well:

And just look at us now! Moore’s law clearly is the golden rule of private innovation, unbridled capitalism, and the invisible hand driving us to ever lofty heights. There’s no other explanation – right? Not quite.

For years, Moore’s law has been almost single-handedly upheld by a Dutch company – one that made it big thanks to massive subsidisation by the Dutch government. No, this is not a joke: the fundamental force behind the internet, the modern computer and the driverless car is a government beneficiary from “socialist” Holland.

and

Radical innovation, Mazzucato reveals, almost always starts with the government. Take the iPhone, the epitome of modern technological progress. Literally every single sliver of technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone instead of a stupidphone – internet, GPS, touchscreen, battery, hard drive, voice recognition – was developed by researchers on the government payroll.

Why, then, do nearly all the innovative companies of our times come from the US? The answer is simple. Because it is home to the biggest venture capitalist in the world: the government of the United States of America.

These days there is a widespread political belief that governments should only step in when markets “fail”. Yet, as Mazzucato convincingly demonstrates, government can actually generate whole new markets. Silicon Valley, if you look back, started out as subsidy central. “The true secret of the success of Silicon Valley, or of the bio- and nanotechnology sectors,” Mazzucato points out, “is that venture investors surfed on a big wave of government investments.”

Even the Guardian commentariat were not having that. The current most recommended comment comes from “Jabr”:

Whatever reasonable insights this article has (none of which are anything we haven’t heard before many times), they pale into insignificance compared to the one central and glaring fallacy, dishonesty, hypocrisy and absurdity at its core (and it’s remarkable that the writer seems oblivious to it): the writer is left wing. The specific branch of state activity where much US government innovation comes from is the federal armed forces of the United States, which every leftist hates more than anything. GPS wasn’t originally developed so we could find our way to the nearest organic kumquat shop – it was developed so that Uncle Sam could kill people more efficiently.

Thank goodness that leftists weren’t in charge of government investment decision-making at the time, because none of that investment would’ve been made and none of this technology would now exist – they’d have spent it on diversity coordinators and other progressive nonsense. Clicking on the writer’s profile, it says “The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders and a 15-hour Workweek.” So there we have it. I rest my case. That’s what society would’ve looked like, had the writer had his way – not a society which invested billions into military technology, but one which actively promotes indolence.

I would guess that most readers here will be closer to Jabr’s view than to Mr Bregman’s, but will not agree with either. But enough of my guesses as to what you think, what do you think?

Guardian comment of the day

Technology has become another way for men to oppress women, says Lizzie O’Shea’s sub-editor. For example,

Millions of people bark orders at Alexa, every day, but rarely are we encouraged to wonder why the domestic organiser is voiced by a woman.

And it is all because of “sexism in the tech industry”. Therefore my nomination for Guardian comment of the day, if not longer, goes to monkeyrich:

You’d have to ask Toni Read, Miriam Daniel and Heather Zorn – the three women who created Alexa, managed the team which engineered it and released it to the public.

It is not just the Guardian, by the way. Cristina Criddle in the Telegraph wrote in 2016, “Female digital assistants that do not fight back reinforce the connection between a woman’s voice and submission. In fact, it encourages it.”

No, they do not.