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Belmont Club

The Walt Scale

May 21st, 2014 - 4:08 pm

Over the last 40 years intellectuals have warned against United States military plots to take over the world. First they inveighed against the Internet. Then there was the menace of GPS. Probably worst of all there was missile defense, conceived by that cowboy monkey, Ronald Reagan. Today billions of people live in chains forged of data packet links, rumble over back roads using Garmin GPS devices and hope that if a meteor is detected streaking toward earth that Ronald Reagan’s maligned initiative may yet save humanity from the fate of the dinosaurs.

The last 40 years could have destroyed us, but it didn’t. Now Patrick Tucker of Defense One describes four DARPA projects which may vie for the title of the next feared/loved thing out of the US defense research shop. He writes, “here are four of DARPA’s potential next big things:”

They are 1. Atomic GPS — “If you can measure or understand how the Earth’s magnetic field acceleration and position is effecting individual atoms (reduced in temperature), you can navigate without a satellite. In fact, you can achieve geo-location awareness that could be 1,000 times more accurate than any system currently in existence, say researchers.”

2.Terahertz Frequency Electronics and Meta-materials — The properties of  terahertz electromagnetic region  are little understood. Nobody knew what it did precisely and there were few technologies available to manipulate it. The region is now suspected to be at the meeting point between the energy spectrum and materials. There is the potential to use terahertz to ”talk” to certain kinds of matter and for those substances to respond in turn. More on this later.

3.A Virus Shield for the Internet of Things. Tucker does not describe this effort clearly, other than to say it represents the next step in network security which makes sure that devices retain their integrity. I think it will probably involve Quantum cryptography which has the potential to create communications that are secure in principle. By relying on a phenomenon called entanglement, any attempt at interposing a third part to the link will, if you like, throw off the checksum. Security by law of physics. Such a development would have monumental consequences to the relationship between individuals and states. The existence of unbreakable encryption will represent a massive power shift in society.

4. Rapid Threat Assessment. Of this Tucker writes:

The Rapid Threat Assessment, or RTA, program wants to speed up by orders of magnitude how quickly researchers can figure out how diseases or agents work to kill humans. Instead of months or years, DARPA wants to enable researchers to “within 30 days of exposure to a human cell, map the complete molecular mechanism through which a threat agent alters cellular processes,” Prabhakar said in her testimony. “This would give researchers the framework with which to develop medical countermeasures and mitigate threats.”

How is that useful right now? In the short term, this is another research area notable primarily for what doesn’t happen after it hits, namely pandemics. It took years and a lot of money to figure out that H5N1 bird flu became much more contagious with the presence of an amino acid in a specific position.. That’s what enabled it to live in mammalian lungs and, thus, potentially be spread by humans via coughing and sneezing. Knowing this secret earlier would have prevented a great deal of death.

In the decades ahead, the biggest contribution of the program may be fundamental changes in future drug discovery. “If successful, RTA could shift the cost-benefit trade space of using chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces and could also apply to drug development to combat emerging diseases,” Prabhakar said.

The 21st century may bring about a basic shift in the way we deal with reality. Recently a well informed person remarked that advances in quantum computing (and presumably terahertz technologies) will increasingly allow us to ask questions of nature directly through means other than chemical analysis or atom-smasher. This ability to ‘speak’ to matter was an attribute the Psalmist attributed to the divine. Of the Creator he wrote, “He counts the stars and calls them all by name.”

If once we learn to speak to things, what should we say? Perhaps Tucker should have added a 5th initiative to his catalog: nano-engineering and especially molecular self-assembly. This technology allows us to tell matter what to do. It is also a god-like power in that it mimics biology. Molecules have self-assembled since life began. We are only now learning to do it in baby steps. “Molecular self-assembly underlies the construction of biologic macromolecular assemblies in living organisms, and so is crucial to the function of cells.”

If engineers learn how to do this not just in biology but in what we called “inanimate matter”, then we have a real game changer.  We can ‘breathe’ a spirit into the dust and a city will arise.

Molecular self-assembly is an important aspect of bottom-up approaches to nanotechnology. Using molecular self-assembly the final (desired) structure is programmed in the shape and functional groups of the molecules. Self-assembly is referred to as a ‘bottom-up’ manufacturing technique in contrast to a ‘top-down’ technique such as lithography where the desired final structure is carved from a larger block of matter. In the speculative vision of molecular nanotechnology, microchips of the future might be made by molecular self-assembly.

The advent of such technologies would essentially redefine scarcity. You can transform the world by literally casting a spell over it; you can order up a palace on Mars prior to going there. This would represent a step forward on the level of the agricultural, industrial or information revolution. In 1964 the Soviet Nikolai Kardashev proposed a scheme for classifying civilizations. It was, unsurprisingly, called the Kardashev scale.

The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. A Type I civilization uses all available resources impinging on its home planet, Type II harnesses all the energy of its star, and Type III of its galaxy. The scale is only hypothetical, but it puts energy consumption in a cosmic perspective.

What’s interesting is that the Kardashev scale may have an informational equivalent. Let’s call it the Walt Erickson Scale, after Walt the Belmont Club poet laureate. Suppose that each Type of Kardashev civilization can be expressed as in terms of a command of information, at deeper and deeper levels of reality. The Walt Scale represents the degree to which we can converse with (hear and speak) to the reality itself.

It’s a thought that belongs at present more to the poets than to hard science.

But one thing is for sure. Each of the four DARPA projects — and my fifth — carries not only the immense potential for good but an equally large capacity for evil. For just as progress on the Kardashev scale imparts not only the potential to build, but also to destroy, so does our position on the Walt Scale. One day we may discover that the stories of the ancients were true and our dim memory of Brother Sun and Sister Moon and the animals who walked with us as friends in the Garden is more than just a metaphor, as is our recollection of a War in Heaven; of angels and of demons.

The world is no drab place but a dangerous and wonderful one. It is thronged with dragons and caverns of gold.  Peter Pan once said, “to die would be a great adventure.” So too is to live. Let us end with a poet’s words.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree.

Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

The Frackers
The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam
One Second After
The New Physics for the Twenty-First Century
A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
Hill 488
Scrubbing Bubbles
How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them: 11 Rules for Winning the Argument
Nokia Lumia 520
Crystal Light Ice Tea Natural Lemon 16 Pitcher Packs

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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Top Rated Comments   
... and *I* still have trouble folding the darned towels so the edges match...
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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A mad, bad friend once remarked on why everyone talked about gods in the ancient days- "Because they were real," he said, "they were everywhere, doing things. It was just news, like in a newspaper."
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Riffing off old Doug... the more I think about the observable universe, the more it seems to me that it was "designed" (insert old, very fit, bearded white guy with a compass here) not for galactic empires or interstellar wars but to breed a very large number of civilizations, widely separated in time and space that veer off in some other "direction." (There should be a penalty for using scare quotes more than once in a sentence.) So no Kardashev II or III civilizations, at least not in the hard science fiction sense.

So the Fermi Paradox is a feature not a bug. The old, very fit, bearded white guy just isn't very interested in creatures building Dyson Spheres. He has something altogether different in mind.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, yes, "What if they gave a war and no one came?" Lets all sing Kumbaya!

Oh, there'll be war enough. Just one determined by age old interests not some BS construct like RTP. More like the old fashion land and resources. You don't need a bunch of guv asshats to do that, corporations can do that but they can't do it without cooperation.

And if we can dream about self assembling nano bots I can dream of a world where tyrannical gov is obsolete.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was in fifth grade, we giggled about the titles of risqué books written by authors with double-entendered names. IIRC, "Open Kimonos" was attributed to someone named Seymore Hares.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
One important point people need to consider in thinking about the threat analysis and assessment of emerging microbes is that many otherwise rational scientists are hyperphobic about any concept they believe arises from "creationist theory."

I say this while affirming that I believe firmly in evolution of species through natural selection, resulting in the survival of those best adapted to changing conditions.*

Most conversations among people who consider themselves scientifically rational - in the terms of modern "sophisticated" progressive societies - frame the emergence of some "new" strain of a previously known microbe or virus as a completely new arising which marks an adaptation confirming the Darwinian evolutionary model.

Irreversible Progress.

Onward and Upward.

No backsliding allowed, not even Republicans!
But Wait!

A deeper understanding of the massive data encoded in the double helix universal to life on this planet, tells us that every critter has an inherited armamentarium of potential adaptations that come with the package. What we see in any single generation of the species is the expression of only a tiny sampling of the full genetic potential embedded in the DNA of every cell making up that critter. The amount of data encoded in the DNA of most animals more complex than a nematode is titanic beyond our comprehension, and most of it is undecipherable to science. In fact, most of what people commonly think of as Darwinian Evolution when they observe some notable change in critters is not that at all. In many cases it is simply the re-appearance of capabilities that were already present in the BILLION-year genetic inheritance of that species. (Several billions for some…)

Mind, I'm not arguing against evolution as permanent amendment of the DNA; I'm saying that most of what we see over the short term is the inherited resilience that species bring to their immediate conditions. DNA is constantly subjected to mutational factors - UV light, X-rays, chemical disruption, highly-charged particles from nuclear disintegrations in the soil, daughter particles from cosmic rays hurtling through the cells —- naked ionized helium nuclei with protons stripped of the electrons that normally neutralize the charge.These re-arrange molecular structures in every cell along their paths.

Every one of those random disruptions and re-combinations of the disturbed DNA result in mutation or disruption. Almost 100 percent are either neutral, or lethal to the cell. Neutral, because only certain cells in most beings give rise to the next generation, and ONLY those cells are able to pass along a useful mutation. So even a potentially beneficial mutation dies with the cell, unless that cell produces a gamete for sexual reproduction — in sexually reproducing Eukaryotes, anyhow.

Lethal mutations are numberless; create something poisonous, fail to create something essential… the processes of life can be very finely balanced, and randomness has an astronomically small chance of producing something good.

Genetic researchers have painstakingly amassed the record of what in our hubris we term "the genomic map" of humans and a handful of other creatures. Most of any genome "map" merely lists the sequence of four amino acids - guanine, cytosine, adenine, and thymine. Sequences of those pairs - sometimes tens thousands of units in length - encode information that allows a cell to assemble complex chemicals of the processes we know as "LIFE." We call those sequences GENES, but we actually know less about how they work, or even how to identify what they do, than we know about Zeus's Butt Crack.

A single gene may be crucially involved in the processes governed by scores of other genes, or it might be a "stand-alone" gene. Many genes seem to only be present awaiting activation to respond to specific and rare emergencies. Others seem to trigger activation of fiendishly complex coordinated responses by a wide range of biologic processes within its own and other cells. An enormous portion of the DNA sequence of any creature is not understood. Some scientists conjecture possible redundancies, or "selfish DNA" just along for the ride, or just non-functional clutter.

So my point is that there are lots of alleged scientists scurrying around these days who seem to profoundly mis-understand what is meant by evolution, and mistakenly attribute to evolution what is in fact, the "expression" of a phenotype... that is, an organism displaying characteristics resulting from the interaction of its "genotype" with the environment.

Or they're just damned sloppy.

Either way, it's not helpful, and it underscores the decline of science without having to invoke the chicanery of certain grifters in the climate swindle.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

* I just think that's how an intelligent creator has worked, with motives and logic that will never be accessible to the puny beings that exist entirely within the cr
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Looks like things are accelerating:

In its 4.6 billion years circling the sun, the Earth has harbored an increasing diversity of life forms:
for the last 3.6 billion years, simple cells (prokaryotes);
for the last 3.4 billion years, cyanobacteria performing photosynthesis;
for the last 2 billion years, complex cells (eukaryotes);
for the last 1 billion years, multicellular life;
for the last 600 million years, simple animals;
for the last 550 million years, bilaterians, animals with a front and a back;
for the last 500 million years, fish and proto-amphibians;
for the last 475 million years, land plants;
for the last 400 million years, insects and seeds;
for the last 360 million years, amphibians;
for the last 300 million years, reptiles;
for the last 200 million years, mammals;
for the last 150 million years, birds;
for the last 130 million years, flowers;
for the last 60 million years, the primates,
for the last 20 million years, the family Hominidae (great apes);
for the last 2.5 million years, the genus Homo (human predecessors);
for the last 200,000 years, anatomically modern humans.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment

It is that we are used to the level of competence, poetic and otherwise, that many people bring to this comment section. There are many good sites on the web, but altogether too many whose level is duh!

Yes, Walt deserves more likes.

Folks, if you're not hitting the "like" button on Walt's frequent, poetic posts, you're not properly appreciating the talent he blesses us with. Trying writing the above post on a few minutes notice. Nice work, Walt.

This post should have a "Like (95)" below it.
18 weeks ago Report Abuse Link To Comment

Walt Erickson
Back in the Fifties, when I was a mere lad, an after work bull session developed the proposition that in the twenty-first century robots would be doing all the work, while a man would earn a year’s pay for a week’s make-work, flying off to somewhere in the world to sit in a room and watch a display board full of dazzling lights, ready to push a button he didn’t know was not connected to anything. Little did we know that Mauchly and Eckert’s 20,000 vacuum tube ENIAC humming away at the University of Pennsylvania just a few blocks away was going to change the world.

Oh Eniac, thou of the tubes
What thinkest thou of we the rubes
Did baby steps come into mind
Did you dream thoughts that your own kind
Would replace man in Heaven’s eyes
Or was it all a big surprise
Sitting there in that big room
Vacuum tubes dispelling gloom
Did you perceive that you would be
The parent of my Dell PC
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Where is Walt?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
He posted today at:
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of all the DARPA projects that I am aware of, the SyNAPSE Program is the most interesting, refer to:

Obviously science fiction concepts like "The Terminator" / Skynet come to mind along with "The Singularity" that computer scientists have been warning about for the last two decades. My guess is that after they crack the artificial intelligence problem, they will find that for a billion dollars they can make an artificial intelligence that is slightly smarter than your typical human being. I suspect there are Laws of Scale that put an upper limit on intelligence. I hope, I'm wrong about this because practical interstellar travel will require artificial intelligence that can reliably function autonomously for centuries.

DARPA has been doing a fair amount of work with hypersonic vehicles flying lifting trajectories. However those projects have been so black that no one seems to know anything about them. They might simply be another version of the Advanced Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (AMaRV) that flew in the late 1970s or it could be something really cool like a SCRAM jet powered hypersonic drone.

The nanotechnology thing that Wretchard alluded to is baloney. NASA threw heaps of money at it but it was a dead loss. The devil is in the detail. At a conceptual level, nanotechnology seems interesting. However when one tries to implement the concepts into practical technology, one can never improve upon ordinary biology.

I'm hoping that something will come out of left field, e.g. dark energy proves to be something other than a spurious solution to a partial differential equation. The big problem with left field surprises is that almost all of the low hanging fruit was discovered during the Cold War. There was a time when really bright guys with unlimited R&D funding could look for stuff out in left field, e.g. the work done at NACA in the 1950s, Bell Labs, Palo Alto Xerox, etc. Google is trying to do stuff like that but I suspect they are "thinking within the box" (too focused on concepts that can produce a profit within a decade).
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Johnny von Neumann (IIRC) was keen on nanotechnology: but of the tiny machine variety.

Anyone know what happened to the Orion rockets? Or microwaving power over distance?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Other John Von:

"...thanks to the detective work of Bruce Meyer, this important Ferrari is back in great condition, after a complete restoration. Meyer dug it up in the Netherlands – where it somehow was involved with drug dealers through no fault of its own – then was able to reunite this Ferrari race car with the V-12 engine that was originally installed by von Neumann.

It is a magnificent car and an interesting blend of Ferrari and California hot rod culture.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Orion is quite possible. The engineering is solid. It awaits the need, which I fervently hope will not arise.

Microwaving power over distance is also possible, and the engineering is solid--but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph it's more a weapon than a tool.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
No computer or human will ever exceed the pure balls of test pilots from days of yore.

The Real Crash behind "The Six Million Dollar Man"

jetpoweredgriffin3 years ago

This aircraft would glide at 450mph and when re-built went over 900mph! All from a plywood glider towed behind a hot rod Pontiac convertible(the MC-F1)! Those guys had guts AND no computers- WOW!


Bruce Redin2 years agoin reply to Bruce Redin

@skii6868 He used a cane and had a patch over his eye. The eye was due to a wood screw that held in the head rest. Not the picture NASA would like to paint. He was an amazing person. A true gentleman.

One account was that he had to maneuver to avoid a pesky tracking helicopter.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Chuck Yeager breaks sound barrier again, 65 years after historic flight
The 89-year-old pilot flew in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California's Mojave Desert.

Crossfield was my childhood hero, but at five and a half minutes into this video, you can see that no one will ever match the charm of Chuck Yeager.

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
At 39 Minutes, the X-15 explodes on the ground w/Crossfield inside...

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
We had our problems here with Gen Shinseki, but Flop Ears repeatedly referring to him as "Rick" this morning was Way Beyond the Pale.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment

Google is thinking inside the box; they just think they're smarter than everybody else. They believe they can outdo RAND. Which belief is horse pies (if anybody is outdoing RAND these days, it's Elon Musk).

It is an interesting question; how thoroughly did the Cold War intellectual infrastructure explore the range of technology as we understand it?

I suspect there are a few wrinkles left untouched, but you've got to go back a couple of centuries to find the incorrect assumptions and track forward from there.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Elon Musk and SpaceX are doing excellent work and I wish them the best of luck. However SpaceX has gotten to where it currently is mainly through archive mining. There is an archive of aerospace documents out there that cost NASA and the USAF a few hundred billion dollars to create. Mining that archive for commercially useful technology showed extreme intelligence on the part of Elon Musk. However eventually he will hit the bottom of that archive and need to develop totally new stuff, e.g. return from Mars with a manned vehicle. The R&D costs for totally new technology is typically hundreds of millions of dollars and success is not assured (billions were spent on controlled nuclear fusion with no success).

Also, incredibly powerful concepts can be in plain view but people are too stupid to see them. The ancient Egyptians could have easily built hang gliders but it never occurred to them to do it. People were playing with crystal sets for decades before the transistor was discovered. The list goes on-and-on. What incredibly powerful concept is out there that we are too stupid to see?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Listen friends, and mark my words in this moment and this hour--
God is jealous for his name for his name is jealous.

Nor is this a charming flower to set before a man
nor one of his commands.

Yet, without Jesus, this is more than we can love as we desire peace,
and less than we can know as we desire joy.

For the sacred fire
that makes us liars--
I mean, that separates speech from dreams,
and separates our flesh from the future--
is God’s power manifested.
So, in the year and the hour-- for his sake, invest your desire in Jesus.
Follow his holy fire for right now. Right now he intercedes for us in heaven!

Some will say we are people of the way.
We are people of the way.
We praise his holy name
I am who I am.
I cause things to be.
I am the first cause of creation.
We praise his holy name

And say “Thank you Jesus for your precious blood--
better, so much better than the blood of Abel.

How then should we pray?

I pray bless me a lot Adonai.
Show me your kingdom and righteousness
in such a way that my thoughts words and deeds
reflect your wisdom and power--
and that-- for the sake of your honor and glory.
So that I will live in your presence
in this life and the next.
For your name sake
Let me hear my children praise your name
And their children too.
Let them woo 10 generations
coiled up in their dimensions
to then praise your name.
Let my enemies,neighbors, friends,family,
strangers praise Jesus.
the risen Lord
I pray all this in Jesus name.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cowboy monkey?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Isn't it about time for SB and Old Salt to show up to make the appearance known on the Top Rated Comments Zone?


Where is Walt?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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