The Long Now Foundation 07/02/2013 21:56
In 02007, political tensions were running high and the US was beginning to contemplate who would replace the second President Bush. Amid this polarized climate, Jason Galbraith predicted that,
Neither major U. S. political party will hold conventions or indeed primaries to select their 2012 Presidential nominees.
Unconvinced by Galbraith’s premonitions of anarchy, coups or shadowy pseudo-democracy, Sam Stigler offered a simple rejoinder:
Galbraith’s argument fails to take into account the incredible resilience of the U.S. institutions of government over the years since its inception.
Stakes were set at $500, half from each participant.
Despite great division in the political sphere and unprecedented international crises abroad, the dramatic upheavals within the US imagined by Galbraith failed to materialize. The customary primaries and conventions were held in 02012 as usual:
Winner: Sam Stigler, Challenger
The winnings of this Bet ($500 plus half the accrued interest) will go to Lewis & Clark College.
The Long Now Foundation 07/02/2013 21:55
In 02005, Daniel K. Simon, believing the effects of Peak Oil to be close at hand, wrote,
The U.S Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics (www.bts.gov) will report a lower number of total highway vehicle miles traveled in 2010 than in 2005.
His Challenger, Glen Raphael, responded,
Five years is too short to expect much change in this area – we may not even have peaked by then. But once we do peak, it won’t be much of a problem.
The two agreed to $400 stakes for the wager; each put in $200.
Adjudication of this Bet proved interesting: Vehicle Miles Traveled in the US have followed a surprising regular upward curve, for as long as theyve been tabulated, with only a few deviations from the trend. One of those deviations began in 02008. Why? While the nature of peak oil is such that it will be hard to identify until afterwards, the timing of the recent dip in VMT seems to implicate the recent economic recession more than anything else. Regardless, the Bet is about the numbers, not causation or correlations.
VMT was 3.005 trillion miles in 02005 and it climbed to 3.049 trillion in 02007. The following year, 02008, was the first since 01980 to be lower than the one before it. The drop that one year was more than the growth of the previous two and 02009 continued the downward trend. 02010 – the decisive year for our purposes – showed signs of recovery and according to preliminary reports looked to have just barely surpassed 02005s level. Once the final official tally was released though, it came to 2.9851 trillion miles: below 02005s level. Despite a few dips in the 01970s, 02005-02010 was the first 5 year period with a net decrease in VMT since WWII.
Winner: Daniel K. Simon, Predictor
The winnings of this Bet ($400 plus half the accrued interest) will go to the Post Carbon Institute.
The Long Now Foundation 07/02/2013 21:53
By 2012, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times will have referred to Russia as “the world leader in software development” or words to that effect.
She was challenged by Bill Campbell, who argued,
As long a there is business opportunity… and I am confident that there will be… the US will provide world leadership in software development.
He backed up his argument by putting in stakes of $5,000, which Dyson matched.
In reviewing the Bet, we found no such remarks in either publication. American software companies like Google and Facebook remain dominant in the American press. Many countries are contributing more and more to the global IT industry, but none as much as India, according to this graph generated from IMF data.
Winner: Bill Campbell, Challenger
The winnings of this Bet ($10,000 plus half the accrued interest) will go to the Computer History Museum.
The Long Now Foundation 07/02/2013 16:15
Tuesday February 19, 02013 at the Lam Research Theater at YBCA, San Francisco
Long Now emeritus board member Chris Anderson originally earned his marks in publishing, starting as an editor of Science, Nature, and The Economist before taking the helm of Wired magazine. It was at Wired that Anderson became an unofficial evangelist of the Makers movement, becoming so deeply involved that he recently quit his day job as Editor to join a 22-year-old from Tijuana in running a Makers firm, 3D Robotics. Andersons current prognosis for the future focuses on how the Makers movement will change the world of objects that surround us:
Heres the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.
Andersons book THE LONG TAIL chronicled how the web revolutionized and democratized content distribution. For most of history, to publish content one required a factory, complete with the bureaucratic systems that surround such institutions. When the first desktop laser printer became accessible, it created a new wave of self publishing. Nearly thirty years later, all we need to do is click a publish button in WordPress. Andersons new book MAKERS shows how the same thing is happening to manufacturing, with even wider consequences for the world:
Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when theyre ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital the long tail of bits. Now the same is happening to manufacturing the long tail of things.
It all started when Anderson wanted to find some new science projects to work on with his kids. He bought a 3d printer (check out the demo below) and found a series of projects that were kid-friendly. Although his kids often quickly lost interest in the various projects he started, Anderson realized that technologies like 3D printers were more than just hobbyist niches. They were the beginnings of a system that has the power to disrupt established systems of manufacturing. MAKERS shows how new systems of funding (kickstarter, crowdfunding), open-sourced design communities (thingiverse.com), and new manufacturing technologies (3d printers, laser cutters, web-integrated small-batch factories) together allow for the radical democratization of manufacturing:
The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. Three guys with laptops used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.
Chris Anderson will discuss the coming Makers Revolution and how it will affect our systems of manufacturing on February 19th at the Lam Research Theater at YBCA. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page. This talk is in partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and we would like to extend a special welcome to the YBCA:YOU members. We would also like to welcome members of General Assembly. Check your email for special ticketing instructions.
The Long Now Foundation 06/02/2013 16:36
Interested in determining the simplest possible way of measuring time, Müller has discovered a way to turn matter into a natural clock.
When I was very young and reading science books, I always wondered why there was so little explanation of what time is, said Müller, who is also a guest scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Since then, Ive often asked myself, What is the simplest thing that can measure time, the simplest system that feels the passage of time? Now we have an upper limit: one single massive particle is enough.
This is not an atomic clock in the traditional sense; rather than measuring the energy emissions of electrons, Müller’s timekeeper looks at atoms as a whole by making use of a particular feature of matter: its building blocks behave like both particles and waves.
Quantum mechanics was born when physicists decided that light was neither a wave (as argued by Huygens) nor a beam of particles (as Newton thought), but both. In 1924, De Broglie discovered that this duality was true for all forms of matter, and developed a formula to calculate the wavelength of different particles.
Müller theorized that if you can find a way to measure these wavelengths experimentally if you can construct a clockwork to count an atoms oscillations you have a very fundamental unit of time. Unfortunately, these atomic frequencies (also known as Compton frequencies) still outpace our best instruments of detection. But Müller has found a possible solution in yet another one of Einsteins discoveries. Because motion slows the passage of time, a moving atom oscillates at a slower pace than a stationary one. The difference between the two frequencies may be measurable, and thereby give us a unit of time.
Though Müllers mechanism is not yet as precise as an atomic clock, improvement of the design will increase its accuracy. Either way, the implications are far-reaching. If matter can be used to count time, the reverse is also true: time can become a unit of measurement for matter. In other words: Müllers work shows that time is woven into the most fundamental building blocks of our world. One might even say its what were made of.
The Long Now Foundation 01/02/2013 16:19
As Samuel Arbesman’s recent article on Long Data might suggest, all the data in the world on the Sun’s activities today can’t tell us what it will do tomorrow. But careful observation over the last several centuries has allowed us to develop a predictive understanding of the patterns in solar storm activity. This collection of long data and the insights it provides won’t guarantee you only see ads that are relevant to you, but it does keep our global electrical and telecommunications infrastructure running.
Long Now intern Sandy Curth writes:
Researchers at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center recently posted their solar cycle predictions for 02013. This coming fall is predicted to be the peak of the twenty-fourth 11- year sunspot cycle on record. Though that might sound scary, this peak is actually anticipated to be the lowest since 01906. While the expected solar activity and its impacts for this year aren’t likely to break many records, the source of these predictions is an exceptional example of long term thinking with data stretching back over 350 years.
Since the start of the 18th century, astronomers have been consistently noting the number of spots on the sun, with records of sunspot observation dating back to 364BCE in the star catalogue of Chinese astronomer Gan De. Belgiums Solar Influences Data Analysis Center offer sunspot data yearly from 01700, monthly from 01750 and daily beginning in 01874. Modern solar predictions are created by analyzing trends in this data and measuring activity in the Earths magnetic field caused by the sun.
NASA solar physicist Dr. David Hathaway explains the details:
A number of techniques are used to predict the amplitude of a cycle during the time near and before sunspot minimum. Relationships have been found between the size of the next cycle maximum and the length of the previous cycle, the level of activity at sunspot minimum, and the size of the previous cycle.
Among the most reliable techniques are those that use the measurements of changes in the Earth’s magnetic field at, and before, sunspot minimum. These changes in the Earth’s magnetic field are known to be caused by solar storms but the precise connections between them and future solar activity levels is still uncertain.
Another indicator of the level of solar activity is the flux of radio emission from the Sun at a wavelength of 10.7 cm (2.8 GHz frequency). This flux has been measured daily since 1947. It is an important indicator of solar activity because it tends to follow the changes in the solar ultraviolet that influence the Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Many models of the upper atmosphere use the 10.7 cm flux (F10.7) as input to determine atmospheric densities and satellite drag.
Predicting the behavior of a sunspot cycle is fairly reliable once the cycle is well underway (about 3 years after the minimum in sunspot number occurs [see Hathaway, Wilson, and Reichmann Solar Physics; 151, 177 (1994)]). Prior to that time the predictions are less reliable but nonetheless equally as important. Planning for satellite orbits and space missions often require knowledge of solar activity levels years in advance.
Even though many of the Suns systems are still a mystery, scientists are able to predict its activity well enough to keep our communication satellites on track and give us time to prepare for powerful geomagnetic storms that can black out whole cities.
The first solar storm recorded was in September of 01859 and reportedly caused major failures in the worlds developing telegraph system and auroras as far south as the Caribbean. More recently, a less severe storm in 01989 left six million Canadians without power for nine hours. Predicting the next major solar event is becoming as important to maintaining our infrastructure as predicting the next hurricane.
Taking the past seriously is a clear route to a good prediction, but having the presence of mind to collect seemingly useless data to make predictions easier for future thinkers is worth contemplating. Astronomers centuries ago did not have tangible applications for the data they recorded on the sun. Luckily, though, they took the time to carefully collect and compile what they could see so that today, as scientists realize the potentially devastating impact of a severe solar storm, their data becomes priceless.
The Long Now Foundation 31/01/2013 16:53
Digital data is exploding in volume and theres enough money in making sense of it all that its garnered its own buzzword lately: big data. In an increasingly measurable world, data-sets of unprecedented size and comprehensiveness are turning up new and genuinely exciting insights. Applied Mathematician Samuel Arbesman points out, though, that many of these data-sets are but snapshots, when its timelapse videos we need to really understand something:
Why does the time dimension matter if were only interested in current or future phenomena? Because many of the things that affect us today and will affect us tomorrow have changed slowly over time: sometimes over the course of a single lifetime, and sometimes over generations or even eons.
Datasets of long timescales not only help us understand how the world is changing, but how we, as humans, are changing it without this awareness, we fall victim to shifting baseline syndrome. This is the tendency to shift our baseline, or what is considered normal blinding us to shifts that occur across generations (since the generation we are born into is taken to be the norm).
Arbesman spoke last year at a Salon event at The Long Now Foundation on his book, The Half-Life of Facts. He explained that there are patterns in the ways our scientific knowledge changes over time. Much of what we take to be true today has a half-life: it will decay at a predictable rate as new science overturns our current understanding. Long data, of the type he champions in this recent article, is essential to unearthing these types of insights and avoiding a static understanding of a dynamic world.
(The image above is a page from a notebook of Isaac Newton’s.)
The Long Now Foundation 29/01/2013 23:03
Thursday January 17, 02012 – San Francisco
Video is up on the Hunt and Lipo Seminar page for Members.
Audio is up on the Hunt and Lipo Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.
Easter Island reconsidered – a summary by Stewart Brand
In the most isolated place on Earth a tiny society built world-class monuments. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is 1,000 miles from the nearest Pacific island, 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. It is just six by ten miles in size, with no running streams, terrible soil, occasional droughts, and a relatively barren ocean. Yet there are 900 of the famous statues (moai), weighing up to 75 tons and 40 feet high. Four hundred of them were moved many miles from where they were quarried to massive platforms along the shores.
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the islands ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of moai madness the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722. The obvious lesson is that Easter Island, the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself (Jared Diamond), is a warning of what could happen to Earth unless we learn to live with limits.
A completely different story emerged from Hunt and Lipos archaeology. Polynesians first arrived as late as 1200AD. There are no signs of violence—none of the fortifications common on other Pacific islands, no weapons, no traumatized skeletons. The palm trees that originally covered the island succumbed mainly to rats that arrived with the Polynesians and ate all the nuts. The natives burned what remained to enrich the poor soil and then engineered the whole island with small rocks (lithic mulch) to grow taro and sweet potatoes. The population stabilized around 4,000 and kept itself in balance with its resources for 500 years until it was totally destroyed in the 18th century by European diseases and enslavement. (It wasnt Collapse; it was Guns, Germs, and Steel.)
What was up with the statues? How were they moved? Did they have a role in the sustainable balance the islanders achieved? Hunt and Lipo closely studied the statues found along the moai roads from the quarry. They had D-shaped beveled bottoms (unlike the flat bottoms of the platform statues) angled 14 ° forward. The ones on down slopes had fallen on their face; on up slopes they were on their back. The archeologists concluded they must have been moved upright—walked, just as Rapa Nuians long had said. No tree logs were required. Standard Polynesian skill with ropes would suffice.
Nova and National Geographic insisted on a demonstration, so a 5-ton, 10-foot-high starter moai replica was made and shipped to Hawaii. After some fumbling around, 18 unskilled people secured three ropes around the top of the statue—one to each side for rocking the statue, one in the rear to keep it leaning forward without falling. Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho! they cry in the video, the statue rocks, dancing lightly forward, and the audience at Cowell Theater erupts with applause. Progress was fast, even hard to stop—100 yards in 40 minutes. A family could move one.
Stone statues to ancestors are common throughout Polynesia, but the enormous, numerous moai of Easter Island are unique in the world. Were they part of the peaceful population control and conservative agriculture regime that helped the society optimize long-term stability over immediate returns in a nearly impossible place to live?
During the Q & A, Hunt and Lipo were asked how their new theory of Easter Island history was playing on the island itself. Shame at being the self-destructive dopes of history has been replaced by pride, they said. Moai races are being planned. Polynesians were the space explorers of the Pacific. They completed discovering every island in the huge ocean by the end of the 13th century, colonized the ones they could, and then stopped.
Easter Island is not Earth. It is Mars.
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The Long Now Foundation 28/01/2013 21:19
The Long Now Foundations monthly
Chris Anderson on “The Makers Revolution”
Tuesday February 19, 02013 at 7:30pm Lam Research Theater at YBCA
Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $10
About this Seminar:
Chris Andersons book THE LONG TAIL chronicled how the Web revolutionized and democratized distribution. His new book MAKERS shows how the same thing is happening to manufacturing, with even wider consequences, and this time the leading revolutionaries are the young of the world. Anderson himself left his job as editor of Wired magazine to join a 22-year-old from Tijuana in running a typical Makers firm, 3D Robotics, which builds do-it-yourself drones.
Web-based collaboration tools and small-batch technology such as cheap 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, and assembly robots, Anderson points out, are transforming manufacturing. Suddenly, large-scale manufacturers are competing not just with each other on multi-year cycles, they are competing with swarms of tiny competitors who can go from invention to innovation to market dominance in a few weeks. Anybody can play; a great many already are; a great many more are coming.
“Today,” Anderson writes, there are nearly a thousand ‘makerspaces’ shared production facilities around the world, and theyre growing at an astounding rate: Shanghai alone is building one hundred of them.”
“Open source,” he adds, “is not just an efficient innovation method its a belief system as powerful as democracy or capitalism for its adherents.”
The Long Now Foundation 28/01/2013 18:01
In what is now the longest-running project of collecting satellite imagery of Earth, Landsat data offer an important resource for a variety of endeavors: from cartography to natural disaster management; urban planning to the monitoring of natural resource usage. Moreover, the unprecedented continuity of data offers invaluable insight into the way that Earth has been changing over the past 40 years.
Landsat 8 will be the most advanced of them yet, promising not just the continuation of data collection, but more precise data that will enrich ongoing geological, ecological, and geographical research.