nhaliday + wild-ideas   36

Mars Direct | West Hunter
Send Mr Bezos. He even looks like a Martian.
Throw in Zuckerberg and it’s a deal…
We could send twice as many people half-way to Mars.


I don’t think that the space station has been worth anything at all.

As for a lunar base, many of the issues are difficult and one ( effects of low-gee) is probably impossible to solve.

I don’t think that there are real mysteries about what is needed for a kind-of self-sufficient base – it’s just too hard and there’s not much prospect of a payoff.

That said, there may be other ways of going about this that are more promising.


Venus is worth terraforming: no gravity problems. Doable.


It’s not impossible that Mars might harbor microbial life – with some luck, life with a different chemical basis. That might be very valuable: there are endless industrial processes that depend upon some kind of fermentation.
Why, without acetone fermentation, there might not be a state of Israel.
If we used a reasonable approach, like Orion, I think that people would usefully supplement those robots.

Jeff Bezos isn’t my favorite guy, but he has ability and has built something useful. And an ugly, contested divorce would be harsh and unfair to the children, who have done nothing wrong.

But I don’t care. The thought of tens of billions of dollars being spent on lawyers and PIs offer the possibility of a spectacle that will live forever, far wilder than the antics of Nero or Caligula. It could make Suetonius look like Pilgrim’s Progress.

Have you ever wondered whether tens of thousands of divorce lawyers should be organized into legions or phalanxes? This is our chance to finally find out.
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september 2019 by nhaliday
Books 2017 | West Hunter
Arabian Sands
The Aryans
The Big Show
The Camel and the Wheel
Civil War on Western Waters
Company Commander
Double-edged Secrets
The Forgotten Soldier
Genes in Conflict
Hive Mind
The horse, the wheel, and language
The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History
Habitable Planets for Man
The genetical theory of natural selection
The Rise of the Greeks
To Lose a Battle
The Jewish War
Tropical Gangsters
The Forgotten Revolution
Egil’s Saga
Time Patrol

Russo: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/books-2017/#comment-98568
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december 2017 by nhaliday
New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning | Quanta Magazine
A new idea called the “information bottleneck” is helping to explain the puzzling success of today’s artificial-intelligence algorithms — and might also explain how human brains learn.

sounds like he's just talking about autoencoders?
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Controversial New Theory Suggests Life Wasn't a Fluke of Biology—It Was Physics | WIRED
First Support for a Physics Theory of Life: https://www.quantamagazine.org/first-support-for-a-physics-theory-of-life-20170726/
Take chemistry, add energy, get life. The first tests of Jeremy England’s provocative origin-of-life hypothesis are in, and they appear to show how order can arise from nothing.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Lucio Russo - Wikipedia
In The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn (Italian: La rivoluzione dimenticata), Russo promotes the belief that Hellenistic science in the period 320-144 BC reached heights not achieved by Classical age science, and proposes that it went further than ordinarily thought, in multiple fields not normally associated with ancient science.

La Rivoluzione Dimenticata (The Forgotten Revolution), Reviewed by Sandro Graffi: http://www.ams.org/notices/199805/review-graffi.pdf

Before turning to the question of the decline of Hellenistic science, I come back to the new light shed by the book on Euclid’s Elements and on pre-Ptolemaic astronomy. Euclid’s definitions of the elementary geometric entities—point, straight line, plane—at the beginning of the Elements have long presented a problem.7 Their nature is in sharp contrast with the approach taken in the rest of the book, and continued by mathematicians ever since, of refraining from defining the fundamental entities explicitly but limiting themselves to postulating the properties which they enjoy. Why should Euclid be so hopelessly obscure right at the beginning and so smooth just after? The answer is: the definitions are not Euclid’s. Toward the beginning of the second century A.D. Heron of Alexandria found it convenient to introduce definitions of the elementary objects (a sign of decadence!) in his commentary on Euclid’s Elements, which had been written at least 400 years before. All manuscripts of the Elements copied ever since included Heron’s definitions without mention, whence their attribution to Euclid himself. The philological evidence leading to this conclusion is quite convincing.8


What about the general and steady (on the average) impoverishment of Hellenistic science under the Roman empire? This is a major historical problem, strongly tied to the even bigger one of the decline and fall of the antique civilization itself. I would summarize the author’s argument by saying that it basically represents an application to science of a widely accepted general theory on decadence of antique civilization going back to Max Weber. Roman society, mainly based on slave labor, underwent an ultimately unrecoverable crisis as the traditional sources of that labor force, essentially wars, progressively dried up. To save basic farming, the remaining slaves were promoted to be serfs, and poor free peasants reduced to serfdom, but this made trade disappear. A society in which production is almost entirely based on serfdom and with no trade clearly has very little need of culture, including science and technology. As Max Weber pointed out, when trade vanished, so did the marble splendor of the ancient towns, as well as the spiritual assets that went with it: art, literature, science, and sophisticated commercial laws. The recovery of Hellenistic science then had to wait until the disappearance of serfdom at the end of the Middle Ages. To quote Max Weber: “Only then with renewed vigor did the old giant rise up again.”


The epilogue contains the (rather pessimistic) views of the author on the future of science, threatened by the apparent triumph of today’s vogue of irrationality even in leading institutions (e.g., an astrology professorship at the Sorbonne). He looks at today’s ever-increasing tendency to teach science more on a fideistic than on a deductive or experimental basis as the first sign of a decline which could be analogous to the post-Hellenistic one.

Praising Alexandrians to excess: https://sci-hub.tw/10.1088/2058-7058/17/4/35
The Economic Record review: https://sci-hub.tw/10.1111/j.1475-4932.2004.00203.x

listed here: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:c5c09f2687c1

Was Roman Science in Decline? (Excerpt from My New Book): https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13477
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax | West Hunter

- conformity and Google, defense and spying (China knows prob almost all our "secrets")
- in the past you could just find new things faster than people could reverse-engineer. part of the problem is that innovation is slowing down today (part of the reason for convergence by China/developing world).
- introgression from archaics of various kinds
- mutational load and IQ, wrath of khan neanderthal
- trade and antiquity (not that useful besides ideas tbh), Roman empire, disease, smallpox
- spices needed to be grown elsewhere, but besides that...
- analogy: caste system in India (why no Brahmin car repairmen?), slavery in Greco-Roman times, more water mills in medieval times (rivers better in north, but still could have done it), new elite not liking getting hands dirty, low status of engineers, rise of finance
- crookery in finance, hedge fund edge might be substantially insider trading
- long-term wisdom of moving all manufacturing to China...?
- economic myopia: British financialization before WW1 vis-a-vis Germany. North vs. South and cotton/industry, camels in Middle East vs. wagons in Europe
- Western medicine easier to convert to science than Eastern, pseudoscience and wrong theories better than bag of recipes
- Greeks definitely knew some things that were lost (eg, line in Pliny makes reference to combinatorics calculation rediscovered by German dude much later. think he's referring to Catalan numbers?), Lucio Russo book
- Indo-Europeans, Western Europe, Amerindians, India, British Isles, gender, disease, and conquest
- no farming (Dark Age), then why were people still farming on Shetland Islands north of Scotland?
- "symbolic" walls, bodies with arrows
- family stuff, children learning, talking dog, memory and aging
- Chinese/Japanese writing difficulty and children learning to read
- Hatfield-McCoy feud: the McCoy family was actually a case study in a neurological journal. they had anger management issues because of cancers of their adrenal gland (!!).

the Chinese know...: https://macropolo.org/casting-off-real-beijings-cryptic-warnings-finance-taking-economy/
Over the last couple of years, a cryptic idiom has crept into the way China’s top leaders talk about risks in the country’s financial system: tuo shi xiang xu (脱实向虚), which loosely translates as “casting off the real for the empty.” Premier Li Keqiang warned against it at his press conference at the end of the 2016 National People’s Congress (NPC). At this year’s NPC, Li inserted this very expression into his annual work report. And in April, while on an inspection tour of Guangxi, President Xi Jinping used the term, saying that China must “unceasingly promote industrial modernization, raise the level of manufacturing, and not allow the real to be cast off for the empty.”

Such an odd turn of phrase is easy to overlook, but it belies concerns about a significant shift in the way that China’s economy works. What Xi and Li were warning against is typically called financialization in developed economies. It’s when “real” companies—industrial firms, manufacturers, utility companies, property developers, and anyone else that produces a tangible product or service—take their money and, rather than put it back into their businesses, invest it in “empty”, or speculative, assets. It occurs when the returns on financial investments outstrip those in the real economy, leading to a disproportionate amount of money being routed into the financial system.

Bad day for Lehman Bros.
Good day for everyone else, then.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Reconstruction | West Hunter
Since power descended through the male line, you don’t expect to see the same thing happen with autosomal genes. Genghis accounts for about 25% of Mongolia’s Y-chromosomes, but the general ancestry fraction attributable to him must be a lot lower. Still, what if the average Mongol today is 0.5% Genghis? Upon sequencing lots of typical contemporary Mongols, you would notice certain chromosomal segments showing up again and again: not just in one family but in the whole country, and in other parts of inner Asia as well. If you started keeping track of those segments, you would eventually be able to make a partial reconstruction of Genghis’s genome. It would be incomplete, since any given region of the genome might have missed being transmitted to any of his four legitimate sons (Jochi, Chagatai, Ogedei, and Tolui). They certainly didn’t carry his X-chromosome. You might be able to distinguish the autosomal genes of Genghis and his wife Borte by looking at descendants of his by-blows, if you could find them. Still, even if you managed to retrieve 75% of his genome, that’s not enough to make a clone. It would however, allow sure identification if we found his tomb.

And since he’s likely buried in permafrost, his DNA could be in good shape. Then we could clone him (assuming reasonable continuing progress in genetics) and of course some damn fool would. Will.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
The Vasconic Program | West Hunter
My question is what local circumstances give the best chance for a substantial dollop of the formerly-common genotypes persisting for a long time – ideally, to the present day. Where do we find the blood of the Old Ones?

Mitanni, controlling northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia, was a major player in the Bronze Age Near East from 1500 BC-1300 BC. They contended and negotiated with the Hittites and the Egyptian New Kingdom.

Most of the population seems to have spoken Hurrian, but there are traces of something very different in their ruling class. We have preserved diplomatic correspondence (cuneiform tablets last!) showing that the rulers of Mitanni swore by Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatya. There are other hints: names of the ruling class often make sense in Sanskrit. Kikkuli of Mitanni’s horse conditioning manual has some Indo-Aryan words (aika, tera, panza, satta). Etc. The semi-educated guess is that Indo-Aryans, as early charioteers, were hired by Mitanni as mercenaries and eventually grabbed the reins of power. After, of course, making a wrong turn at Albuquerque: North Syria is quite a ways from the known stomping grounds of the Indo-Aryans.

There’s likely an interesting story here, but we are missing almost all of it, because we have never found Washukanni, the Mitanni capital. If we did, we’d probably find lots of cuneiform tablets – as we have other capital cities of that era, such as Boğazköy.

Washukanni was probably somewhere in the Khabur triangle. Which brings me to the present, and possible near future: if we end up occupying that area, it’d be nice if we could manage a little digging on the side. We just need to start embedding archaeologists into the infantry.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
There’s good eating on one of those | West Hunter
Recently, Y.-H. Percival Zhang and colleagues demonstrated a method of converting cellulose into starch and glucose. Zhang thinks that it can be scaled up into an effective industrial process, one that could produce a thousand calories of starch for less than a dollar from cellulosic waste. This would be a good thing. It’s not just that are 7 billion people – the problem is that we have hardly any food reserves (about 74 days at last report).

Prepare for Nuclear Winter: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2017/09/prepare-for-nuclear-winter.html
If a 1km asteroid were to hit the Earth, the dust it kicked up would block most sunlight over most of the world for 3 to 10 years. There’s only a one in a million chance of that happening per year, however. Whew. However, there’s a ten times bigger chance that a super volcano, such as the one hiding under Yellowstone, might explode, for a similar result. And I’d put the chance of a full scale nuclear war at ten to one hundred times larger than that: one in ten thousand to one thousand per year. Over a century, that becomes a one to ten percent chance. Not whew; grimace instead.

There is a substantial chance that a full scale nuclear war would produce a nuclear winter, with a similar effect: sunlight is blocked for 3-10 years or more. Yes, there are good criticisms of the more extreme forecasts, but there’s still a big chance the sun gets blocked in a full scale nuclear war, and there’s even a substantial chance of the same result in a mere regional war, where only 100 nukes explode (the world now has 15,000 nukes).


Yeah, probably a few people live on, and so humanity doesn’t go extinct. But the only realistic chance most of us have of surviving in this scenario is to use our vast industrial and scientific abilities to make food. We actually know of many plausible ways to make more than enough food to feed everyone for ten years, even with no sunlight. And even if big chunks of the world economy are in shambles. But for that to work, we must preserve enough social order to make use of at least the core of key social institutions.


Nuclear War Survival Skills: http://oism.org/nwss/nwss.pdf
Updated and Expanded 1987 Edition

Nuclear winter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter

Yellowstone supervolcano may blow sooner than thought — and could wipe out life on the planet: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/10/12/yellowstone-supervolcano-may-blow-sooner-than-thought-could-wipe-out-life-planet/757337001/
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Futuristic Physicists? | Do the Math
interesting comment: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/outliers/#comment-23087
referring to timelines? or maybe also the jetpack+flying car (doesn't seem physically impossible; at most impossible for useful trip lengths)?

Topic Mean % pessim. median disposition
1. Autopilot Cars 1.4 (125 yr) 4 likely within 50 years
15. Real Robots 2.2 (800 yr) 10 likely within 500 years
13. Fusion Power 2.4 (1300 yr) 8 likely within 500 years
10. Lunar Colony 3.2 18 likely within 5000 years
16. Cloaking Devices 3.5 32 likely within 5000 years
20. 200 Year Lifetime 3.3 16 maybe within 5000 years
11. Martian Colony 3.4 22 probably eventually (>5000 yr)
12. Terraforming 4.1 40 probably eventually (> 5000 yr)
18. Alien Dialog 4.2 42 probably eventually (> 5000 yr)
19. Alien Visit 4.3 50 on the fence
2. Jetpack 4.1 64 unlikely ever
14. Synthesized Food 4.2 52 unlikely ever
8. Roving Astrophysics 4.6 64 unlikely ever
3. Flying “Cars” 3.9 60 unlikely ever
7. Visit Black Hole 5.1 74 forget about it
9. Artificial Gravity 5.3 84 forget about it
4. Teleportation 5.3 85 forget about it
5. Warp Drive 5.5 92 forget about it
6. Wormhole Travel 5.5 96 forget about it
17. Time Travel 5.7 92 forget about it
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Which one would be easier to terraform: Venus or Mars? - Quora
what Greg Cochran was suggesting:
First, alternatives to terraforming. It would be possible to live on Venus in the high atmosphere, in giant floating cities. Using a standard space-station atmospheric mix at about half an earth atmosphere, a pressurized geodesic sphere would float naturally somewhere above the bulk of the clouds of sulfuric acid. Atmospheric motions would likely lead to some rotation about the polar areas, where inhabitants would experience a near-perpetual sunset. Floating cities could be mechanically rotated to provide a day-night cycle for on-board agriculture. The Venusian atmosphere is rich in carbon, oxygen, sulfur, and has trace quantities of water. These could be mined for building materials, while rarer elements could be mined from the surface with long scoops or imported from other places with space-plane shuttles.
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february 2017 by nhaliday
A New Germ Theory: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/02/a-new-germ-theory/377430/
The dictates of evolution virtually demand that the causes of some of humanity's chronic and most baffling "noninfectious" illnesses will turn out to be pathogens -- that is the radical view of a prominent evolutionary biologist

A LATE-SEPTEMBER heat wave enveloped Amherst College, and young people milled about in shorts or sleeveless summer frocks, or read books on the grass. Inside the red-brick buildings framing the leafy quadrangle students listened to lectures on Ellison and Emerson, on Paul Verlaine and the Holy Roman Empire. Few suspected that strains of the organism that causes cholera were growing nearby, in the Life Sciences Building. If they had known, they would probably not have grasped the implications. But these particular strains of cholera make Paul Ewald smile; they are strong evidence that he is on the right track. Knowing the rules of evolutionary biology, he believes, can change the course of infectious disease.

I HAVE a motto," Gregory Cochran told me recently. "'Big old diseases are infectious.' If it's common, higher than one in a thousand, I get suspicious. And if it's old, if it has been around for a while, I get suspicious."

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february 2017 by nhaliday
Orthogonal — Greg Egan
In Yalda’s universe, light has no universal speed and its creation generates energy.

On Yalda’s world, plants make food by emitting their own light into the dark night sky.
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov - Wikipedia
Gromov's style of geometry often features a "coarse" or "soft" viewpoint, analyzing asymptotic or large-scale properties.

Gromov is also interested in mathematical biology,[11] the structure of the brain and the thinking process, and the way scientific ideas evolve.[8]
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january 2017 by nhaliday
ho.history overview - Proofs that require fundamentally new ways of thinking - MathOverflow
my favorite:
Although this has already been said elsewhere on MathOverflow, I think it's worth repeating that Gromov is someone who has arguably introduced more radical thoughts into mathematics than anyone else. Examples involving groups with polynomial growth and holomorphic curves have already been cited in other answers to this question. I have two other obvious ones but there are many more.

I don't remember where I first learned about convergence of Riemannian manifolds, but I had to laugh because there's no way I would have ever conceived of a notion. To be fair, all of the groundwork for this was laid out in Cheeger's thesis, but it was Gromov who reformulated everything as a convergence theorem and recognized its power.

Another time Gromov made me laugh was when I was reading what little I could understand of his book Partial Differential Relations. This book is probably full of radical ideas that I don't understand. The one I did was his approach to solving the linearized isometric embedding equation. His radical, absurd, but elementary idea was that if the system is sufficiently underdetermined, then the linear partial differential operator could be inverted by another linear partial differential operator. Both the statement and proof are for me the funniest in mathematics. Most of us view solving PDE's as something that requires hard work, involving analysis and estimates, and Gromov manages to do it using only elementary linear algebra. This then allows him to establish the existence of isometric embedding of Riemannian manifolds in a wide variety of settings.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Thinking Outside One’s Paradigm | Academically Interesting
I think that as a scientist (or really, even as a citizen) it is important to be able to see outside one’s own paradigm. I currently think that I do a good job of this, but it seems to me that there’s a big danger of becoming more entrenched as I get older. Based on the above experiences, I plan to use the following test: When someone asks me a question about my field, how often have I not thought about it before? How tempted am I to say, “That question isn’t interesting”? If these start to become more common, then I’ll know something has gone wrong.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
What’s the catch? | West Hunter
Neanderthals and the Wrath of Khan

if someone were to try to create a Neanderthal a few years from now, starting with ancient DNA, they’d have to have worry a lot about data errors, because such errors would translate into mutations, which might be harmful or even lethal. Assume that we have figured out how to get the gene expression right, have all the proper methylation etc: we have modern humans as a template and you know there isn’t that much difference.

They might try consensus averaging – take three high-quality Neanderthal genomes and make your synthetic genome by majority rule: we ignore a nucleotide change in one genome if it’s not there in the other two. ‘tell me three times’, a simple form of error-correcting code.

But doing this would cause a problem. Can you see what the problem is?
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november 2016 by nhaliday

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