Something for the weekend #21

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of pessimism, as noticed in the media.

* “NASA’s New Nuclear Reactor for Future Space Missions”. NASA has tested a new type of ‘Kilopower’ nuclear reactor in the Nevada desert. The reactor is intended to power human colonies on the Moon and the Mars for more than a decade. The tests prove that the reactor will not melt even after failure during operation.

* “Small-town American newspapers are surprisingly resilient”. In American terms, a ‘small town’ means a place with 100,000 people or less. The sort of place where both readers and advertisers will rally round their local newspaper.

* “Public EV charging points on UK lamp posts”. Public open-access electric vehicle (EV) charging points have been launched in the UK. They’re fitted into street lamp-posts.

* “Hypergrowth and The Law of Startup Physics”. “I started noticing patterns in [business] startups — which I’ve validated with executives and VCs over the years — that how companies scale and break matches military groupings. So, the most efficient group in the military is a group of three, then a group of eight, and then three groups of eight, so 24.”

How is this relevant to optimism? It’s another example of our newly applying certain time-tested ‘rules of organisation’ to traditional activities, which is just as important as discovering new drugs or energy sources.

* Development + Cooperation reviews Hans Rosling’s new book on world mega-trends: “Why things are better than people in rich countries think”.

* Here’s one I missed, a 2017 Futerra briefing-paper for Vodaphone. “An Insights Report On Optimism” (October 2017). Ten key trends, in a brief summary PDF.

* “Technological Progress Freed Children from Hard Labor” “It’s summertime and across the United States, children are away from school. … Washing machines and tractors have accomplished more than just cleaning clothes and ploughing fields. They also freed America’s children [from the farms] to receive an education.”

* “U.S. Hispanic Unemployment Reaches All-time Record Low”, as the Trump economy continues to build.

* The Economist on a major priorities-tallying project in India ($). Over three days an Expert Panel, including Nobel laureate Prof. Finn Kydland and Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, produced over 1,000 pages of new thinking and quantification on various spending priorities. The panel then presented a prioritized list of 77 interventions for development and growth in Haryana, a state that abuts the national capital of Delhi. Lomborg’s personal newsletter especially highlighted that… “Two education interventions are among the top-ten priorities chosen by the Eminent Panel: teaching children in groups at the right level, and computer-assisted learning.”

* The Royal Observatory in Greenwich ceased night-sky observations in 1957 due to the air pollution then prevalent in London. But the famous Observatory is now re-starting observations with a newly installed cutting-edge telescope.

* Visits to city parks and green spaces in England were up by 25 per cent in 2016, compared to 2010, new research by Natural England has revealed. And that was despite a string of relatively poor summers. One imagines that the near-perfect spring and summer of 2018 have sent the stats leaping up even further.

* The pleasantly warm and rain-less summer in the British Isles is revealing abundant new archaeological sites, in combination with newly-affordable HD photography drones. As grass turns yellow, marks from ancient sites show up on the parched grass and in field crops. New finds include a huge new Neolithic henge near the famous Newgrange in Ireland

* And finally, in a dry summer, The grass really is is ‘greener on the other side’.


Something for the weekend #20

My round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of pessimism, as noticed in the media. We’re in the ‘silly season’ for news, so there’s not as much around to find as otherwise.

* “Gallup poll: 55 Percent of U.S. Adults Say ‘Country’s Best Days Are Ahead of Us'”.

* website on “Boeing’s Hypersonic Vision: A Sleek Passenger Plane That Can Hit Mach 5”.

* India’s The Hindu newspaper muses on “What we’ll do in the future” if we work hard enough to ensure plenty and reliable automation. “As we inch closer to a world of plenty, the value of curation increases many-fold.”

* “Associations of intelligence across the life course with optimism and pessimism in older age”, a new academic journal article in public open access. A large Scottish cohort was studied. Translating from psychology-speak, the key finding seems to boil down to: if you were an intelligent kid, and then remain intelligent into your 80s and 90s, then you’re more likely to have lower levels of pessimism in old age than otherwise. That seems fairly obvious, but I guess it’s nice to have it nailed down.

* Forbes asks “What Ever Happened To Peak Oil?”. (Not a direct link to Forbes, as they seem to have problems with UK and EU visitors).

* A new Royal Society study debunks the happy-clappy optimism around open-plan offices. “Impact of Open Offices on Collaboration”. “Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases [in ‘open’ offices], with an associated increase in electronic interaction [The ‘open’ space triggered] a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email.”

* The EU has voted to reject automated ‘copyright filters’ for the Internet, by a vote of 318 to 278. But the unworkable ‘magical thinking’ on this issue is now set to return for a second-round try at becoming law, in September.

* “Montana tribes push state to restore wild bison herd”. “Montana’s tribal nations will no longer wait for state officials to decide whether bison will be allowed to roam free somewhere on public land, even though the state acknowledges the need for action. If the state can’t establish a wild bison herd, individual tribes will restore herds on their reservations.”

* AllAfrica reports that “Gorilla Population in Africa Rises”. “The population of mountain gorillas, which survive on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa, has increased by a quarter to over 1,000 individuals since 2010, wildlife authorities said.”


Something for the weekend #19

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of pessimism, as noticed in the media. We’re entering the ‘silly season’ for news, so this week there’s not as much around to find as otherwise.

* “Urban ‘forests’ can store almost as much carbon as tropical rainforests”. Mathias Disney, a Remote Sensing specialist in London, used UK Environment Agency LIDAR data to quantify “85,000 trees across Camden”, London. He found absorption… “rising to 380 t/ha in spots such as Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery – that’s equivalent to values seen in temperate and tropical rainforests”.

* The Power Line podcast #72: Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist). The 30-minute Ridley section is from 5:00 mins to 36:00 mins. (Direct .MP3 link via Podtrac). “Our conversation ranges from explaining why the left is so wedded to apocalypticism, what’s the latest on climate change research that you’re not hearing about from the mainstream media, and the latest things happening in domestic oil and gas production.”

* How technology is changing Ukrainian agriculture for better. From bread-basket, to socialist basket-case, and back to bread-basket again.

* Buzz Aldrin: How we can make Mars missions a reality.

* “Millennials have newfound optimism about the economy since Trump took office”, commenting on a Gallup sentiment survey about job prospects.

* Microsoft data centre placed on seabed, off Orkney coast. It’s self-powering via tidal turbines, and naturally cooled by the same tidal flows. The data centre should be able to operate… “untouched for up to five years”.

* Researchers locate world’s first known manta ray nursery.

Picture: Giant oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) by Elias Levy.

Something for the weekend #18

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of the optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of pessimism, which I’ve noticed in the media:

* “Optimism and prosperity at levels not seen since the 1990s”. “After the flurry of amazing recent economic news, MAGA might well stand for ‘Make America Grow Again’. […] second quarter national growth at an astounding 4.7 percent. […] an incredible 2 million Americans have stopped receiving food stamps”.

* President Trump has announced the creation of a new branch of the U.S. military: the U.S. Space Force. Also, Defense One has details of the behind-the-scenes grumpy noises and hemming-and-hawing from other branches of the military, who fear budgets being trimmed to pay for the new branch.

* “Mike Pence Convinces USAID To Provide $100 Million To Help Christians and Yazidis in Iraq”. For those outside the USA, who maybe don’t know USAID from Kool-Aid, it’s the U.S. Agency for International Development.

* “Can Heterodoxy Save the Academy?” asks Quillette. Heterodox Academy is a loose movement in favour of free speech and intellectual diversity on campus, and has been tootling around for a while now. But they had a new leader in the spring, and they’ve just had their one-day inaugural conference.

* Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist) in the House of Lords, speaking good sense on bee populations. He’s just created a huge new 50-acre bee meadow on his farm in the north of England.

* The St. Louis Jewish Light, on Pinker and more, “A dose of reality for the pessimists among us”. (May require a VPN to reach, for those in the UK and Europe).

* “Facebook Groups to test a subscription-based model”. Interesting, and potentially good news for highly-curated “news you can use” Group owners. Though $4.99 a month is too high, and they need to ditch the offputting marketeery ‘.99 cents’. The floor needs to be ‘$2.50 a month, paid monthly via PayPal, cancel at any time’. That’s because most people are going to want to subscribe to maybe three groups, and not have the sub go over $10 a month total (inc. sales tax).

Something for the weekend #17

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, and discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, as noticed in the media:

* “Overflowing With Optimism” says Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. in speech (may require VPN to reach). He’s…

“the first sitting Israeli ambassador to visit Detroit in 20 years […] “Israel is overflowing with optimism,” Dermer said. “Reports that Israel is continually isolated globally is certainly fake news. Israel boasts diplomatic, social, economic and academic relations with China, India, Japan and (countries in) Africa. Israel has 10 times the population it did in 1948, but it has less water scarcity because we have pioneered and continued to improve techniques in water desalination and conservation. These are technologies Israel is proud to share with our diplomatic partners.””

* 29 million less people smoked tobacco in 2016, compared to 2000. Tobacco smoking has decreased globally from 27 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2016. The World Health Organisation spins it for every depressing angle it can find on the story, of course.

* Pockets of optimism emerge in the moribund Greek economy.

* The UK is actually having a half-decent summer, so far. Even Scotland is having a summer, for once.

* A new type of robo-spectacles. Stanford University researchers have developed auto-focal spectacles that combine eye-trackers with a depth-sensor. The resulting data-stream automatically adjusts the focus in the spectacles. “In an evaluation with 24 users aged between 51 and 81, participants reported better [sight] at near distances than with traditional […] lenses.”

* How progress turns scarcity into abundance. CATO, responding to the usual leftist attacks on Steven Pinker’s new book on optimism and the enlightenment.

* A fine new Tom Woods podcast this week: Episode. 1178: “Who’s Afraid of Robots?”. The guest is Political Economy editor at Forbes, giving a very clearly delivered and upbeat take on the future of work in an age of robotics and automation. But without the heavy brain-grinding excursions into economic theory that you sometimes encounter on the show.

* Humpback whale baby-boom near Antarctica. ($, The New York Times).

“Humpback whales in the southern oceans around Antarctica appear to be breeding successfully, recovering their population.” “Dr. Todd said the new study confirmed the growing abundance of humpbacks that he had noticed on annual trips to Antarctica. When he first started going in the early 2000s, he would see a few humpbacks every trip in February and March. Now, he sees them as early as December, he said, “to the point that you can lose count of how many are around you.””

Something for the weekend #16

Something for the weekend #16

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, as noticed in the media:

* Here’s the Bill: Bill Gates Is Giving Every 2018 Graduate a Free Copy of His Favorite Book. It’s Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

* Sensor-ship: How Barcelona shushed noise-makers with sensors.

* Capital city: Once-drab Warsaw changed by capitalism into booming modern city.

* Grains of hope: Rice grown by Chinese scientists using seawater in Dubai’s desert. A “high yield reported – 7,500kg per hectare … They now plan to set up a 100-hectare experimental farm later this year, put it into regular use next year and then start expanding after 2020.”

* On the Summit: US unveils world’s most powerful supercomputer. “The U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory unveiled ‘Summit’, 60 percent faster than the previous super computing leader”.

* New podcast: Not Impossible. “It explores stories about people solving the hardest, most mind-boggling problems in some of the most creative and unimaginable ways.”