I am now in this place where you should never come. We call it Onkalo. Onkalo means hiding place. In my time it is still unfinished, though work began in the 20th century when I was just a child. Work will be completed in the 22nd century, long after my death. Onkalo must last 100,000 years. Nothing built by man has lasted even a tenth of that time span. But we consider ourselves a very potent civilization.
If we succeed, Onkalo will most likely be the longest lasting remains of our civilization. If you, some time far into the future find this, what will it tell you about us?
It isn’t often that you find people seriously thinking about deep time in a concrete way. Usually it’s abstract, just a thought experiment, not an engineering problem or a gut wrenching moral quandry. But this is apparently not the case for the Scandinavians who have taken on the task of storing their spent nuclear fuel. Finland has decided to go forward with permanent storage, in a typically responsible, deliberate, earnest Nordic way.
A good talk from Chautauqua on the interaction between markets and morals. Some interesting examples of morally ambiguous markets: countries paying one another to take on refugee acceptance obligations and the outsourcing pregnancy to impoverished surrogate mothers in Gujarat, India. Sandel argues that in the last few decades we have gone from having a market economy to being a market society. Markets are now a large portion of our governance, and it’s unclear whether this is really a good thing.
Thank you for your monetarily very generous offer of employment! Honestly, it’s not obvious to me how I could spend $X a year, as I am currently living quite comfortably on about one Nth of that amount. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I’m sure I could spend it all if I got a mortgage on a big house out in the suburbs, bought a fancy car with which to commute to work, ate out frequently, and had a few kids I planned to put through college. However, I prefer to live simply in a small home, cook my own meals, bus or bike to work, and I may very well choose not to reproduce. I also prefer, in my all too limited time on Earth, to experience the wilderness that still remains in the world, and the myriad human cultures, cuisines, and languages that have emerged in the last 50,000 years. Those experiences will not come easily sitting in front of a computer in an office park, and they often cannot be had on weekends or whirlwind tours. Thus, I am concerned about the following potential scenario with your offer of employment as it currently stands.
I finished reading Taleb’s second book, The Black Swan. He openly admits that it’s not really a new book, but a re-writing of his first book, Fooled by Randomness, which I loved. He’s gotten really incredibly lucky with the timing of his book releases… just before 9/11 and just before the stock market laid a giant turd on the doorstep of all the happytalk from Wall Street. Especially lucky when you take into account the fact that The Black Swan was at least 15 months late!
Taleb really has just one big idea, and in his own obnoxious way, he’s humble enough to admit it. His idea is that the world is less predictable than we think. That “rare” events are both systematically more likely that we believe them to be, and that their consequences are disproportionately large. He rails against the use of Gaussian distributions where they should not be used — against the mindless shoehorning of all kinds of processes into that bell shaped box, where they do not belong, and can do great damage.
I think the main differences between this book and his prior one are that in this book, he provides a few short words on how he thinks we should live and plan, given that we live in an inherently, and increasingly, unpredictable world. That, and the fact that because of his prior book’s success, he was able to get away without having this book edited, apparently, at all (which I think may have been a mistake… but oh well). Anyway, his advice in a nutshell:
Spuds in a Box – Build a box whose sides you can progressively remove from the bottom up, plant potatoes in the bottom, and fill with dirt as they grow. Remove lower slats to harvest spuds. I've certainly heard this suggestion from other people too. Will be interesting to see how well it works for these guys. Seems like you could also do this with some kind of bag, and if you sewed in sleeves/tubes periodically, that you could tie off, and then untie when you wanted to reach in and root around for a spud, you wouldn't have to worry about soil falling out when you pry off the boards. Others are supposedly reporting 50kg of potatoes from 0.5 m^2 area. (tagged: gardeninggreensustainabilityagriculturefoodurbandesignpotatoes )
How Much Do You Earn? – A great annotated visualization of income distribution in the US as of the year 2000. It would be awesome to see an animated version of this, and see how it evolves through time. Turns out I make just about the most likely income in America ($20k), which is far below the mean (and the median). As a "household" though, I suppose we're right about at the median ($40k). Interesting. (tagged: economicswealthtaxesgovernmentpolicyvisualization )
The Capitalist Threat – Geoge Soros on Karl Popper's Open Society, from the mid-90s. He rails against the West's failure to extend a helping hand to the post-Soviet nations. He acknowledges that Truth may not be a strong enough motivator for most people, and that within a society that has decided to be Open, there are still many other choices to be made, but somehow fails to mention the way these two things end up pushing an Open Society closed with propaganda, apathy, and misinformation. Political evangelism – the process of deciding what (arbitrary) values your society is going to have – creates huge incentives for those who do not highly value truth to assert authority. I guess that's part of his point though, to robustly inoculate society against those assertions of perfect (authoritarian) knowledge. (tagged: economicspoliticspoppersocietyphilosophy )
Report on HR 801, Fair Copyright in Research Works Act | MAPLight.org – MAPLight takes a look at campaign financing in the context of HR 801 (that Conyers bill) which would prohibit the federal government from requiring open access to publications arising from publicly funded scientific research (along the lines of what is currently required for the NIH). Bill sponsors on the house judiciary committee got, on average, about twice what non-sponsors got. My rep, Adam Schiff got $6,000, which is more than the average contribution to sponsors. (tagged: politicstransparencyopenaccessscience )
Welcome to the Future – An essay by Bruce Schneier, on the immediacy of panopticon style surveillance. All the technology is in place, it just needs to stitched together at the edges. In typical human style, we're going to bumble headlong into the mess, it seems. I'm not as sure as he is that it's ultimately bad for us though – when we lived in tribes and villages, privacy was rare. This transparency will, I think, only be a disaster if we can't watch those in power just as well. (tagged: technologyprivacytransparencysurveillance )