Thursday assorted links

1. Will I someday be a fan of Fan Bingbing?  And are index funds communist?

2. There is no great stagnation.  Whenever I give no further description with this header, it is usually something pretty good (bad), right?

3. Bombardment and dust when you fly at 20% of the speed of light.

4. The link between politics and personality maybe isn’t that strong.

5. “After all, labor market slack has now already declined to very low levels.

6. Given Hillary’s speech, I will re-up my earlier post on neo-reaction, which is related to “Alt Right.”


OK, interstellar travel might be an interesting intellectual exercise and future possibility, kind of like autonomous automobiles, but what's practical about it? Probably no one alive today will ever see the result, if there is one. We should spend the time and money on earth-bound problems, bedbugs and lack of parking, for instance.

I think the proposed time of flight is around 25 years. Long, but not absurdly so. The Voyagers have been operating longer than that.

That's not the hard part of the project. The laser array is the hard part of the project. I'm guessing followed by the difficulty of getting a signal back upon arrival.

It's noteworthy that the original spending on this is roughly $100 million. The two Voyagers have cost roughly $865 million so far (and that's probably in nominal dollars). So, it seems pretty cheap as proposed.

This person has never done a space project before. We don't really know the price. The $100MM might only be for an analysis.

The fact that Stephen Hawking is backing it is a Red Flag. Not because Hawking is dumb or anything, but the manager sought out a celebrity in a close-but-not-really-related field to bring out on the matter. That's a danger sign for hucksterism.

I don't really think it will happen either, but not because of Chuck's reasons. Your reasons are closer to the mark. I'd add that it's technically very ambitious.

"I’d add that it’s technically very ambitious."

I'm not sure that's the case. The only point that would seem to be very ambitious are the lasers. And since you can incrementally add relatively low powered lasers to hit your target energy transfer, you don't have to build and mass produce a perfect design from the start. Indeed, you can just incrementally improve the lasers as you add new ones and keep using the old ones.

The part that I fail to understand is how the probes are supposed to transmit what they find back to Earth. They are very small and they'll have very little energy to work with. A very small solar cell that will be 25 years old will be the entire power supply.

I'm at the edge of my knowledge, but I think they need to be combined coherently, so it's not a simple thing to scale.

Also, aiming will be hard. Could you do this through the atmosphere and still track a few meter wide target half a solar system away and moving at 0.2c?

"...but I think they need to be combined coherently"

No, it's a simple energy transfer. You just want the photons to dump their momentum. So, coherency between lasers shouldn't matter.

"Also, aiming will be hard. Could you do this through the atmosphere and still track a few meter wide target half a solar system away and moving at 0.2c?"

No, but the plan is to get it up to 0.2c within a few minutes.

"Propulsion will be outsourced to a facility on Earth. The small spacecraft will be equipped with a light sail, and a phased array of lasers in the 100GW range will provide the sail with enough push to get the craft moving at roughly 20 percent the speed of light in just a matter of minutes."

They talk about a phased array because it needs to be coherent. "Phased" means they control the phase. Adding lasers is not a trivial problem. That's generally true, I believe, because they interact in non-obvious ways.

In ten minutes at 0.2c, you get pretty far away. The aiming problem is hard. I think you're 90 million kilometers away at the end of the acceleration.

Also, the sail better be pretty darn reflective, because if even a tiny fraction of the beam energy is absorbed, the ship is going to be vaporized.

I'm not saying it's impossible. In fact I think it likely is possible, eventually. But probably not today, by an inexperienced team, for $100m.

This paper from Bob Forward (who is always a fun read) discusses a similar, but larger scale concept:

"The very real problems of extending laser cw power levels from the present kilowatts and low megawatts to the gigawatts and terawatts needed for interstellar travel are not trivial. First, there are the engineering problems of scaling the present lasers to higher power levels, then making large numbers of these lasers operate as a coherent, phase-locked array."

They actually have a page analyzing the challenges:

"No ‘dealbreakers’ have been identified by the team of expert scientists and engineers leading the program.
As with any ‘moonshot’, however, there are major engineering challenges to be overcome. It is hoped that addressing them will not only open a path to the stars, but will also spur innovation and new frontiers of exploration.
Below are listed the most significant challenges identified so far for a light-propelled nanocraft mission, along with the areas of research and development that could provide solutions to them."

It's interesting reading.

I don't know the economics, but since these are very small and limited, it would make sense to build more than one. Send a swarm. It's amazing to me it could even possibly communicate back though.

I listened to an interview with one team on The idea itself is intriguing and the tech itself would have a large number of applications at home. Also, while interstellar exploration is the endgame, it would also make flybys of the outer solar system using dozens of these craft at once a real possibility. The biggest advantage is that once you have a laser array working, the cost of the craft is so inexpensive that it opens up alot of avenues for cheap exploration.

I don't understand how the thing will decelerate at its destination without on-board propulsion or another laser array. If you do a 0.2c flyby of something, your scan results are going to be compromised.

5. Timothy Taylor: "So if you're worried about issues like a lack of jobs for low-wage labor, too many jobs paying at or near the minimum wage, not enough on-the-job training, not enough opportunities for longer-term careers, loss of jobs in sectors like manufacturing and construction, too much part-time work, inequality of the wage distribution, one can no longer argue that the issues will be addressed naturally as the economy recovers. After all, labor market slack has now already declined to very low levels." Taylor has become one of my favorites for his propensity to provide more than one (ideological) view of things, in this case the downside of the upside. I learned this morning that the Silicon Valley boy wonders prefer bicycling to golf. The image of the boy wonders standing around in their tight riding shorts admiring themselves is a bit much. Somehow I'm not confident that more advertising start-ups in Silicon Valley will add much to the downside of the upside. It's so depressing I think I will go for a bicycle ride myself. Alone.


Clarke wrote about this in "The Songs Of Distant Earth" . He suggested carrying an ice shield as well as redundant and spaced out ships.

Thanks. I completely forgot about the ice shield...

This thing is supposed to be gram sized.

People have talked about using an aerosol in front of the ship, possibly occasionally replenished, as a shield for such things. You want space between the shield and the ship.

An ice shield seems like an obviously bad idea.

Dust collides with ice shield. Result: plume of vapor shooting in the opposite direction the spacecraft is traveling.

Does Clarke get around this?

The plume of vapour does no damage to your thrust that is not accounted for already by the momentum of the dust particle that hit you -- which is independent of the material properties of the shield (conservation laws are nice that way).

An ice shield will increase drag a bit by increasing the surface area -- a bit. But this is probably trivial compared to the trade-off already inherent in the mass of the thing.

My guess it that Clarke's idea is sound. But that is a pure guess.

No, the thrust is not accounted for by the momentum of the dust particle, because the plume of water vapor also carries momentum.

2b. Hah. Index funds are parasitic on active management, just like how Marx taught us that 19th century capitalists were parasitic on workers. So, not communist.

Don't get me wrong. Index funds are great and the right choice for almost everyone. But they do presuppose an infrastructure of active stock pickers.

Make that 1b.

More seriously, I've heard this general point argued a lot. But it seems to me that relatively small number of active stock pickers would suffice to seize on arbitrage. The article also improperly conflates "index fund" with "SP 500 index fund." There are many sector-specific index funds, geography-specific index funds, etc. These are all kind of a hybrid of active and passive investing.

I don't know why the number of pickers matters. It's the capital behind the pickers. And frankly, the current amount of active stock pickers don't seize on arbitrage very well. See 2007 and 2009

I think it's the other way around: the count matters more than the capital. One guy with a lot of money would do a poor job setting prices.

But a thousand guys with 1% of the capital might be able to do just fine, as long as 0.001x(1% of the capital) is a consequential amount of money to them.

1b - index funds make it easier for the common man (ie proletariat) to own a piece of large companies (ie means of production). Communism 101.

Oh ah. Still, the Communistic vision is likely closer to a co-op or ESOP-owned comnpany; workers, not a class of seething capitalists, own the produce of their labor.

An index fund gives you a piece of a bunch of companies you don't work for. Sounds more like capitalism for all to me.

Of course it's all semantics.

"Of course it’s all semantics."

It's just a really bad choice of words. Click bait would be my guess. The concept isn't Communist except through a very strained distortion of all the concepts involved. Does anyone really think that Marx would have considered Index funds to be the path to the Socialist Utopia?

I wouldn't say that index funds are communist (though I didn't see the note the article was referring to). Just that they free ride off of active management and drain the industry of talent and resources by consolidating the industry around economies of scale, which leads to increased correlations among stocks and sectors. Btw, the difference between index fund performance and active management minus fees and transaction costs is measurement error. The rest of the article discusses various forms of active management and automation.

Kind of a semantic argument, isn't it. In real communism, there would be shares at all and you sure as hell wouldn't be hiring an agent to buy and/or sell them on your behalf!

Fees and Transaction Costs really matter Dan. Fees of 2% are taking about half of stock market returns for the managers. Better to invert it all and remember that active management is a zero sum game BEFORE fees, so unless you have a good way of picking your active manager, stick with the tracker funds.

How does this interstellar craft slow down when it gets to its destination?

It doesn't. It's a flyby.

Slowing down laser-driven sails is something people have thought about, but it's considerably more complicated. Basically you stage the craft at the destination and use a large part of the sail as a mirror to reflect light in the opposite direction on the remaining sail and the payload.

This line in Tyler's neo-reaction post is absolutely and utterly absurd:

"There exists a coherent form of the doctrine perfectly consistent with the view that different races are intrinsically equal..."

The idea being if you don't agree with the above you're a racist.

I don't consider myself a racist, I don't consider myself part of the "alt-right", I don't even consider myself Republican (more of a third-way type in the realm of B. Clinton and LKY). That being said, I understand that it's *literally* a statistical impossibility for all ethnic groups to have exactly the same median intelligence. Equating racism with understanding simple statistics is a bit odd.

I read "intrinsically" in more of a metaphysical or philosophical sense. Equal in innate holistic value kinda thing.

That is ultimately the origin of liberalism's belief in equality. Equality in a metaphysical, moral, or religious sense. The earliest issues that animated liberalism was whether the king alone had a divine right conferred by God, whether the Church or the clergy had a special dispensation from God that the laity lacked, etc. The rise of secularism and materialism brought this egalitarianism down to earth and to more material dimensions and qualities.

The right by contrast tends to emphasize material differences, while either professing metaphysical or moral egalitarianism, or claiming that metaphysical or moral questions are separate issues. However, it's easy to imagine a situation in which material qualities are controlled and manipulated by genetic engineering technology, and differences are largely irrelevant or simply the product of whim. In such a situation, it seems unlikely that the right would stop being the right. Which suggests that ultimately it's not some sort of empirical realism about material differences that animates the right, but a particular metaphysical, moral, or religious view.

In the here and now, I think for most it is good if you treat humans by the golden rule, and animals without unnecessary cruelty. Vegans etc set a stricter bar.

vegans are super nice? I missed that. Bob you might find there is a strong element of "equal before God" in Christianity, in the Bible itself, which is probably the basis for our western liberalism. Not sure where you got the idea that it's the right that emphasises material differences - I think it's the precise opposite, the right isn't so fussed about outcomes even if they embrace the concept of "equal before God" as in of equal moral value, but in the more progressive left wing liberalism, equality of material outcome, is the implied goal.

I just got back from Sequoia. Yay me for missing a bit of the 2016 BS.

That said, the science, and Tyler say:

There is a belief that progress in genetics will resurrect old, now-unpopular claims about race and IQ, namely that some races are intrinsically inferior in terms of IQ. I very much expect that we will instead learn more about the importance of the individual genome and that variations within "groups" (whether defined in terms of race or not) are where the traction lies. So I don't expect "old style eugenics views" to make a comeback as applied to race, quite the contrary.


Why is it impossible?

To be clear, what I am asking is whether "intelligence" as you use the term is sufficiently precisely defined and measurable that group medians can meaningfully be measured to, say, one decimal point, or two?

If the measurement is not sufficientlly precise, or the concept not sufficiently well-defined then it is entirely possible that two groups will have the same median. And i'd say bot those conditions hold.

Don't you think it's likely that as soon as we get to the point where we sufficiently understand hereditary IQ on the genetic level that we'll start designer fiddlin' with it? Personally, I think with improvements in nutrition globally and likely genetic manipulation, we'll all be seen as somewhat slow (and unhinged) by our descendants 100 years from now...

This strikes me as extremely dangerous, because of the human tendency to think we know more than we really know.

1b (indexing communist) is surely at least partly satire.

By the time you get to the dueling algorithmic robots, you're in fantasy land.

As I noted a few days ago, these are both real trends. People move to index funds. Hedge funds move to AI. Levine did a humorous review and projection.

It may be silly to think that it will all be indexes and AIs, but it's not really fantasy if both can be found in markets today. Whatever future markets are they will probably contain indexes and AIs, but hopefully not just that.

If you like 3, on interstellar travel - Scott Wooley and Andrew SImoson, back in 1988, in my favorite journal-on-a-long-sabbatical (the Journal of Recreational Mathematics, originating at the time from some dodgy untraceable post office on Long Island), wrote fascinatingly about the "Scouts in the Desert", a combination of AfrikaKorps from Avalon Hill, deep thoughts about a more infinite version of checkers, and the art of "ars combinatoria" which got rebooted after a long post-Byzantine silence in late Dark Ages Italy (I kid you not! - although I might not be completely accurate...). Wikipedia currently has a good article on the "jeep problem" (sending jeeps with extra tanks of petrol back and forth to see how far the utmost jeep can get to the local Ultima Thule). Interstellar communication will, I guess, start with a little computer that knows how to move fast and how to improve as it goes its little engine room and its little comm deck and that is constantly bouncing back and forth with its intelligent forebears updates on obtaining better physical speed and faster communication; if the communication improvements bounce between each other fast enough, and if there are enough feasible work-arounds for the light-speed limit problems, one could conceivably launch one of the little fellows, effectively prepared for its future improvements to the best of our abilities, and see the same little fellow return from a nearby star in an hour or two without too much disruption along the relevant starways. If I had access to the table talk of Hardy and Littlewood I could relate their versions of interesting things to say on this, of course.

To humanize the preceding comment a little: A cat recently moved into my house (cat looks like Palmerston of Downing Street). Dog people outnumber cat people in my house (I am not a cat person) and I thought the cat would have no way of knowing I was relating to it much as I would to a dog, or that I was hoping New Cat would act more like a New Dog than is ordinarily the case (and hence would not be, as a natural born cat, offended). After a month or two of this, I somehow realized that New Cat may have, in her previous life, lived in a home with a dog, and may have been wondering all this time why I acted like I wanted a dog and not a cat. I felt sorry for her and right away instituted communications improvements.

You should already be a Fan fan. Her appeal will decline with time for obvious reasons.

What is "alt-right". A slur, an insult, a racial slur intended to isolate and discriminate against a minority for political reasons. Does the "alt-right" even exist? Is it nothing more than a figment of the "alt-left" imagination?

Honestly, it's lines like this that pushed me into the alt right: "Second, some of America’s worst traits, such as the obsession with guns, the excess militarism, or the tendency toward drunkenness, not to mention rape and the history of slavery, seem to come largely from white men. "

Who has the highest per capita rape rate? If you want an honest conversation about the merits and detriments of each race, fine. But there is something deeply wrong when public intellectuals write lines like this, when you know that they would never give whites credit for anything or say anything detrimental to minorities as a group.

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