Saturday, February 27, 2010

Young and Unemploiyed

I really know a ton of unemployed people. Still, I didn't realize how few people in my age group have jobs:

Only 41 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds reported having a full-time job in 2010 compared to 50 percent in 2006


it isn't just 22 year old college students skewing the statistics either:

In November, 19.4 percent of all men in their prime working years, 25 to 54, did not have jobs, the highest figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the statistic in 1948


Dying HIV

Here is a graph that rather surprised me. A lot of people talk as if HIV is still getting worse in America.


I knew HIV death rates were falling, but we have been getting better about diagnosing it, not worse. So there really has been a decade long retreat of the virus.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I went to an IEEE meeting today. When I walked out I saw a tiny little sports car by the door. I actually don't notice nice cars that much, but this one just looked expensive. So as I walked past I looked at the back to see what it was. I must admit to being quite surprised to see the model name. Tesla.

I am actually rather sold on the idea now. Sure, the car is useless as a car, I could never fit it in my day to day life. That isn't the point though. No one spends that much money on a practical car. You spend that much money on a car so you can attract a girlfriend half your age. Most such cars however chase off quite a number of hippy girls even as they attract gold diggers. With the Tesla you get both.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Obama has it made

The Democrats in congress are going to get crushed. There is no way around it, they have nothing to run off of this fall. The only decent legislation they managed to pass was the credit card bill, and since it resulted in the credit card companies raising the interest rates on most cards few people are yet going to be thankful for it(it banned what the credit card companies just did, so of course they did as much as they could before the law stopped them).

Obama has it made though. There is absolutely nothing that is better for a president than a recession during his first year. He managed to take office right as the economy was at its worst:

Source (click to enlarge)

The economy has three years to continue the track it has been going on. All he has to do is get out of the way and watch it grow. Even if he cannot get Congress to produce any decent legislation the average worker will be better at the end of his term, than they were at the end of the Bush administration. With a track record like that, he will have no trouble in the next election.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What would a self sufficient colony need

A self-sufficient colony in space capable of expanding on its own should be the ultimate goal of NASA. Sure, this goal may take a hundred or more years to reach, but it is certainly possible. Once it happens we will quickly settle the solar system, and it opens the real possibility of travel to the stars(if perhaps travel that takes many generations).

What would it take to be self sufficient though? In the abstract, you need access to energy and raw materials in space. Then you need the technology to convert those materials into the form you need, using the energy that is available.

A large colony, with several small factories, will be necessary. Luckily building space ships intended to stay in space is comparatively easy relative to ones that need to take off from earth. The pressure they need to hold in is only 1 atmosphere. They won't be subjected to large forces, as accelerations can be done over long periods of time through solar sails or electric propulsion systems. Radiation and meteorite protection can simply be done by using large masses of whatever material proves cheapest around the ships.

Right off the bat, we know if we are going to expand without help from earth we need mining equipment, something to mine, and facilities to convert that raw material into the form we want it in. An asteroid or low gravity moon seem ideal to me. I admit to knowing little about mining, and I suspect many of the methods we use on earth will not work well in space. Still, if we want a colony capable of growing on its own, it is safe to say we need at least a few dozen people employed in collecting raw materials, and likely many more for converting that material into the alloys, gasses, and liquids we would need to build more ships.

The ability to build solar cells is high on the list of uses for that material. Since the cells will last so long, it is not really necessary to be able to build them quickly, but you will need to build them if you want to expand. I suspect this facility would be hard to operate using less than a dozen people.

Metal parts of all kinds will be needed. Modern Computer Numerical Controlled systems can really do amazing things. A model could probably be designed that can be built through the work of only a few dozen people. Many of these could easily enough be operated to create most metal objects.

Computer chips are also likely to be needed in such a colony. These would not need to be the most high-tech devices, but they should be robust and be capable of being used for a wide range of applications. Fabrication of these chips is complicated, once again I couldn't imagine that a factory could be run with less than a few dozen people, and maybe many more might be needed. Because of the light weight of computer chips, and their complexity, early settlements probably would just go ahead and import them. To be fully self-sufficient it would be best that they could build their own.

Food could be a real issue. Access to energy in such large amounts means that it probably will prove best to grow them indoors using artificial lighting, although that adds another factory to the list of what is needed. A lot of research has gone into this subject, so I suspect it can be beaten easily enough.

In the end, I imagine a colony of 1000 people could be designed to take care of itself. It may require a whole lot of primitive living at first though. Still, as the colony grows it will be possible to increase specialization. By the time the population reaches a million, standards of living would be quite high. By the time it reaches 10 billion, space will be the place to live.

Wikipedia is amazing as usual, and has a particularly interesting article on the subject of space colonization.

Places to start settling

It has been clear to me for quite some time that open space is a far better destination for human colonization than any other planets. The reason for this is that in open space it is relatively easy to generate artificial gravity through rotating space ships. On Mars, the most likely planet for settling, you are stuck with the low gravity.

It also is clear to me that the most important thing that needs to happen before permanent settlements in space appear is cheaper travel into orbit. All that effort going to exploring the outer planets, and science done on the space station is mostly meaningless. It is the people building new generations of space ships that matter.

It has also been clear that once we get our first self sufficient settlement in space, it will only be a couple generations until we inhabit the entire solar system in huge numbers. Exponential growth will spread us quickly through the inner solar system, and mining is likely to occur in the outer solar system once we use up the building material closer to the sun.

In space access to energy is virtually unlimited. Once constructed, solar cells can survive millions of years because of the lack of corrosion. Once pointed at the sun, they will never have to deal with cloudy days, or nights. Also radiation from nuclear reactors really isn't the threat that it is on earth. This is why space is such a good place to settle relative to the bottom of the ocean, or Antarctica. While easier to get to, and rich in building materials, those are both energy poor places, while space is rich in both energy and building materials. Having access to so much more energy than people on earth can easily construct solutions to the obvious disadvantages of space.

But once we can get into space cheaply enough, then what? where do we start and what do we do?

The first thought I had was to start on our moon. It has a whole lot of building material, that could be sent to space using an elevator for construction of other ships. This is quite feasible, but the gravity on the moon is just enough to be annoying, and not enough to be helpful. The escape velocity of 2.38km/s is still going to cause trouble. A settlement at a lighter body could ultimately beat it.

The next thing I thought was the asteroid belt. The total mass of the asteroid belt though is only 4% of that of the moon so as a mining destination it is not quite so rich. Still, billions of people could live in ships constructed from those asteroids. A third of that weight comes from one individual asteroid. Ceres. Now we are talking, the gravity is only 0.02g so things could easily be shipped off of it to build space ships. Its mass is 9.43 x 10^20kg. This is huge. For comparison the world only produces 1x10^12kg of steel in any year. While we probably would have too little of certain elements, and will need to mine other asteroids for them, it is safe to say we could support more people from the remains of Ceres than currently live on earth.

Another way to go would be the moons of mars Phobos and Diemos. These are actually a whole lot smaller than Ceres, 1x10^15-1x10^16kg. Escape velocity from the smaller one is only 11.3 meters /second. I can almost jump that fast! They have an advantage over Ceres too since they are somewhat closer. Here it really would be practical to put a rotating ship in orbit only a few thousand feet above the moon, then have miners spend days on the moon, before returning to the ship at night.

I am a stud

Okcupid has a really neat blog about who does best on their site. Everything from the type of picture, to race and religion are discussed.

I can only conclude that I am a stud.

First I am white. White guys do the best by far.

So white guys are more likely to get a response to emails they send. Asian, Hispanic, and White girls are more likely to respond to them than any other race. We are never worse than third.

I am not religious.

Match percentage is a pretty annoying way to measure attractiveness. However it is true that on their site, people are more likely to contact people who have a high match percentage. So it is likely that dates are easier to get as an Athiest, Agnostic, Jew, or Buddhist, than a Muslim Hindu or Protestant.

I will be watching closely for when the graphs on profession, income, height, and other factors come out. I imagine that this site will be pretty impressive as time passes.

Other interesting data from the site:

Astrology is bullshit:

Half of men think they are a genius:

They just might be. Women are bad at math. They think 80% of men are less attractive than average. Men however are quite clear about who is of average attractiveness.

Men care a lot more about how attractive a woman is. They are quite good at identifying and contacting these woman. Women spend a lot of time talking to men they believe are less attractive than average.

Women unsurprisingly do worse the older they are:

That trend even holds true even if they girl is hot enough to put a revealing picture on the site.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Federal Spending

One thing Democrats do that I absolutely have never understood, is push federal spending on issues as opposed to state spending. For example, rather than having the individual states create socialized medicine programs, they are pushing the issue in the federal government. Why this is a horrible idea makes sense when you look at a map of how much states pay in federal taxes, verses how much money the federal government spends in them:

Source(click on image to enlarge)

Now look at a map of how states voted in 2008:


Democratic states like Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, and California typically pay a lot more in taxes than they get back.

The only Republican states to do so are Texas, and Georgia and they come out almost even.

This has always struck me as remarkable. It is as if Republicans have used Democrats willingness to spend on big federal programs as a way to manipulate them out of their money(over-representation of small states in the senate explains some of it, but small Democratic states like New Jersey, and Connecticut do quite poorly) . That, and Republicans have never been shy about spending fortunes on pork, while pretending to be against big government.

So if Democrats were smart, they would push to cut every ounce of federal spending they could, crow about how well they did at balancing the budget, than rebuild the programs in their own states. They could save something like 20 cents on the dollar on average by doing so.

Government spending on young

This is a fairly impressive statistic:

"the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children."Source

I suppose that is what happens when old people can vote, and young can't/don't.

Cherokee Popcorn

All that really worked of my gardening last year was the popcorn. Since I still have all of the drip irrigation set up, I may as well put some seeds in the ground.

I am currently deciding between Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn, and Miniature Blue Popcorn. Probably I will go with the first.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Flash Cards

One of the primary techniques I used when I was taking AP tests for subjects that I was not taking as a class was flash cards. I would go through a book, and make flash cards for all of the important aspects. What I put on them would vary, names of important individuals in European History and all the bolded words in the Biology test prep book being the two I remember best.

This was a wildly sucessful technique. For the biology test about 500 flash cards were enough to get me a 5 on the test, while spending a tiny fraction of the time people taking the class spent.

Then I never really did it again. It was just too much work. More importantly teaching myself subjects became less important, and classes became more important. This technique can be done for classes, but typically a decent grade could be earned with far less effort.

I am starting to use this technique again though. I am once again faced with the problem of learning an absurd number of courses worth of information but don't particularly want to take any courses. So I have been going through an undergraduate text book on electrical power systems making flash cards about the most important definitions, conclusions, and equations.

Within a few minutes I remembered why I liked this technique. I have read Maxwell's equations dozens of times, but could never recite them from memory. Within five minutes of starting this, I could. Most equations can be memorized in just a few minutes, meaning it would not be hard to learn in excess of a hundred.

Before this, I never had memorized large numbers of equations. Physicists I have known typically look down on memorizing equations. They can look them up whenever they are needed. It is problem solving techniques they practice.

This doesn't really apply to undergraduate level equations as far as I can tell however. The reason is that so many books just assume you know that stuff cold. If you haven't memorized these prerequisites it is really hard to follow them.Also, a common issue I have is forgetting what all of the variables mean. Flash cards are about the best way around the problem.