Technology


krugman-thumbThe growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.

 

– Why most economists’ predictions are wrong.

I’m sure he’s right about everything else though.

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To paraphrase George Monbiot:

There is not enough oil.  We are all going to die!

. . . oh, wait . . .

There is too much oil.  We are all going to die!

It must be really depressing being an environmental alarmist.  No matter what happens, you have a compelling need to see it as a dire threat to the very existence of humanity.

As one would expect, Mr. Monbiot fails to note that much of the United State’s newly found energy wealth is in the form of natural gas, and as a result, “total [U.S] CO2 emissions this year are on track to drop to the lowest level since 1991.”

It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black.

If you were wondering where all the Puritanical guilt went as our society become more secularized, I think the environmental movement has found it for us.

More great work by xkcd.

Tell me again about the good old days . . .

In case the YouTube video goes missing, this is the link to the video on the IIHS website.

I found this idea fascinating. 

I was thinking recently, one day we might run out of new images. Let’s take the current standard for high quality images, 1080p hi def video. It’s surprising to realize that that frame contains a finite number of possible images. I thought it would be interesting to figure out just how many, so I wrote a little Python expression to do the math. The total number of pixels is 1920 horizontally x 1080 vertically = 2,073,600 pixels. There are 256 possible intensities of red, green and blue for each pixel, so that’s 2563 = 16,777,216 possible colors. To figure out how many possible images there are, we need to raise the second number to the power of the first, so 16,777,2162,073,600 = 1.5 * 1014,981,180 possible images. That’s a pretty big number – it’s almost fifteen million digits long. Printing it in 10 point Monaco would take over 2,700 pages of paper. Scientists estimate that there are 1080 atoms in the observable universe – a tiny number in comparison.

However big it may be, the fact that the number is finite is a surprising thing to realize. It means that every possible image has a unique ID number.

Given enough time this machine will display every possible picture within this array of 64 x 64 black & white pixels.

What makes this interesting is that among those pictures will be those of all your ancestors and descendents, the first words of every book that will ever be written. The true digital face of God.

It brought to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant short story The Nine Billion Names of God.

“This is a project on which we have been working for the last three centuries — since the lamasery was founded, in fact. It is somewhat alien to your way of thought, so I hope you will listen with an open mind while I explain it.”

“Naturally.”

“It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of God.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“We have reason to believe,” continued the lama imperturbably, “that all such names can be written with not more than nine letters in an alphabet we have devised.”

“And you have been doing this for three centuries?”

“Yes. We expected it would take us about fifteen thousand years to complete the task.”

It’s all in there, every possible image.  There’s an image of me sitting in front of my computer just as I am right now.  And there’s an image of my Great, Great, . . ., Great Grandfather hefting up the megaliths at Stone Henge.  And there’s an image of my Great, Great, . . ., Great Grandson basking on the beach under the alien sun of Fhloston Paradise.  Even if it didn’t, or doesn’t, happen.

Don’t worry too much though.  At a TV frame rate of 30 images per second, even the super low resolution 64 x 64 black and white version would take 359,676,102,360,200,472,965,684,305,166 years to watch from beginning to end.

Scientists now think that King Tut may have died of Malaria.  As the fellow who sent me the link dryly noted, King Tut did not have good comprehensive health insurance.

All kidding aside, this is a good excuse to meditate on just how rich we are.  King Tut was probably the wealthiest man in the world during his time.  He died of something that wouldn’t kill the most abjectly immiserated welfare mother in the United States today, because of a combination of public health efforts, and cheap antimalarial drugs.

You always need to factor in things like this when you talk about changes in living standards over time.  All the positive changes in society mean that the absolute difference between the income of Bill Gates and the man who valets his car is larger than it has ever been in history.  But the actual difference in comfort between the two of them is probably much smaller than the difference between JP Morgan and his stableboy.  And both Gates and the valet are almost immeasurably better off than their predecessors.

I noted earlier that free trade and technology disparately benefit the poor.

The The good kind:

A new technique being used to drill through a type of rock known as shale has led to a surge in domestic natural gas production over the last three years and enabled the United States to overtake Russia recently as the world’s No. 1 producer of natural gas.

. . .

Thanks to a breakthrough in drilling technology, involving the use of three-dimensional seismic imaging and hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, huge amounts of natural gas are being produced in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and other states. Instead of declining, domestic natural gas production is booming to record-high levels (see chart).

If estimates hold up, energy experts say the shale gas that underlies large parts of the United States will be able meet our country’s needs for the next 100 years. The Department of Energy expects shale gas to account for 50% of natural gas production by 2020 if not sooner.

What’s more, the same drilling techniques for shale gas are now being used in several European countries, including France and Poland, to extract their own supplies. Both China and India have huge shale-gas resources. Geologists say shale gas is so plentiful in some parts of the world that it could meet global needs for several centuries.

And, the bad kind (of which Joe Biden appears to be the No. 1 producer):

But these exciting energy developments may not last if natural gas companies are burdened by excessive regulation and heavy taxes. Environmental groups are lobbying Congress to shift regulation of hydraulic fracturing from state governments to the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that the process poses a risk to groundwater supplies.

But the fact is, hydraulic fracturing is done about 1,000 feet below underground aquifers and separated from the water supply by thick rock.

The White House also wants to add $37 billion in taxes on U.S. oil and natural gas companies, rehashing a proposal to Congress that failed the first time around. History shows that once drilling costs jump due to higher taxes, investment starts to dry up.

(Via Carpe Diem)

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