Re: What On Earth?

1

Meh. Probably like the guy with canals on Mars, but less Italian.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:20 PM
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Yeah, I'm in the "if you look at enough star systems, eventually you'll see one going through something weird and transient" boat.

(The fact that we've looked at enough star systems to see one of them go through something weird and transient is still pretty amazing.)


Posted by: Micah | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:23 PM
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It's true, my leading diagnostic for whether someone sounds non-crazy is whether they have well-defined expectations for what alien civilizations will or will not do.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:35 PM
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Well, we know they'll have record players, and be fond of Jodie Foster. But that's hard to measure!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:42 PM
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Mine is that they don't start sentences with "Sure he's arrogant, but you have to admit Trump has a lot of good ideas."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:43 PM
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"Sure we have a bunch of different possible explanations given what we've already observed of the universe, but all of them would mean that something unlikely had happened," say the scientists about the feature of the one star in billions they have observed it in, "so we think it could totally be something we've never seen even the slightest evidence of before but really really wish was there!"


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:44 PM
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Strictly as a plot point for the 21st century, it would be really good to discover aliens.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 7:58 PM
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I'm not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:10 PM
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I like stories like this. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence continues, and the likelihood of detecting it becomes exponentially higher with new technology. If the astronomers are actually going to recognize it when they see it, they have to be looking for clues. Seth Shostak wrote a good book about it recently.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:12 PM
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I hope to know before I go. The idea that there isn't any other intelligent life in the universe is the WORST IDEA EVER, cause it means a really evil God.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:21 PM
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I vote aliens. Aliens is so much cooler than not aliens.

And maybe now people will stop bitching about that stupid Fermi paradox.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:27 PM
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I mean, what are the chances this is another "Gravity Waves! Whoops, dust on the lens...." scenario? Slim to none, I say.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:34 PM
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That wasn't gravity waves, that was faster-than-light particles, I think.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:40 PM
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No, the faster than light thing was because the Swatch they were using to keep time was wound too tight, and so it was running too fast. Except it probably wasn't a Swatch, but like an atomic clock or something.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 8:50 PM
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15

Although, I am reminded: Warp Drive was invented earlier this year. Maybe we could use that to go visit the aliens.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 9:02 PM
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16

15 System works by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.

The burrito drive.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 9:17 PM
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17

Sponsored by Chipotle.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 9:20 PM
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E.T. The Extra Tomatillo Salsa


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 9:42 PM
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1: the guy with canals on Mars was Percival Lowell, you racist. Schiaparelli said he thought he could see "canali" which just means "channels" - no implication of their being artificial - and Lowell mistranslated him and got totally carried away.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 10:52 PM
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I am kind of inclined to 2 because the thing about vast alien megastructures is that you shouldn't be finding just one of them, any more than you should stumble across a lost city consisting of one building. There should be some round nearby stars too. Though they might have been destroyed during the War against the Precursors.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 10:57 PM
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20: I thought stars were normally round. Wait, are all stars ancient alien megastructure?! Mind blown.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 11:09 PM
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They're generally round but sort of spiky in places.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 11:10 PM
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And I'm glad to see ajay noting the responsibility of Lowell for the "canals on Mars" stuff so I didn't have to. He was totally wrong, of course, but he did put Flagstaff on the map. Also, Pluto.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 11:18 PM
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In other geographic parochialism, I was glad to see that the VLA is being used to evaluate the alien hypothesis in the OP.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-14-15 11:23 PM
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I mean, Schiaparelli was wrong too, but he didn't get carried away, being a stoic, level headed Italian, not like these excitable Boston Brahmins.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 12:48 AM
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26

Heh.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 12:58 AM
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27

TBH, given a choice of Ringworld (which is what the article appears to be hinting at) vs. Not Ringworld, I would go with Not Ringworld every time. Niven could spin a good yarn, but nothing about his world building ever struck me as remotely plausible.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 3:16 AM
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Well, you can't build Ringworld, if I remember, because the required tensile strength is greater than the strength of the interatomic bond, so it is literally impossible to build something that big spinning that fast. What they're suggesting is more like a partial Dyson sphere - a swarm of collection structures occluding a significant percentage of the sun's output, implying a civilisation between level one and level two on what I heard described once as the Kardashian scale.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 3:21 AM
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29

I thought stars were normally round.

They're cylindrical. It's just we're seeing them all end-on.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 3:34 AM
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30

I am kind of inclined to 2 because the thing about vast alien megastructures is that you shouldn't be finding just one of them, any more than you should stumble across a lost city consisting of one building.

It's like you haven't even read Excession.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 3:36 AM
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31

Everyone goes straight to advanced alien intelligences but just as likely it's giant space moths.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 4:28 AM
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32

I vote for natural causes because weird natural stuff is common as dirt. This is just the Hallucigenia of star systems.

I'm as certain as a non-crazy person can be that the universe teems with life, I just think intelligent life is rare and intelligent life capable of being detected across light years is rarer still. IOW the last few coefficients in the Drake equation are really tiny.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 4:33 AM
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33

Well, one out of several million stars _is_ pretty rare.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 4:38 AM
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34

I keep forgetting this is still a thing. I have incontrovertible proof of intelligent life in other solar systems, but I never find the time to write it up.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 5:26 AM
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35

Fermat's last anathem.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 6:18 AM
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36

34: If only we didn't provide Moby with so many opportunities to make puns and other witticisms!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 7:03 AM
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37

34: now, Moby, we all agreed that there are several very convincing models of how urple could have evolved in a terrestrial environment.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 8:18 AM
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I am kind of inclined to 2 because the thing about vast alien megastructures is that you shouldn't be finding just one of them, any more than you should stumble across a lost city consisting of one building.

This is a common misconception, the idea that we should be finding a bunch of aliens all at once instead of a single signal. We are only looking in a tiny subset of the universe at any one time, and we are constantly shifting our focus from one spot to another spot to another spot.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 10:37 AM
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39

5: That's alien, all right, Moby. It's just not civilised.


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 11:38 AM
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40

16: the burrito drive's already been invented


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 11:41 AM
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41

TBH, given a choice of Ringworld (which is what the article appears to be hinting at) vs. Not Ringworld, I would go with Not Ringworld every time.

Agreed. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is way better than Sixteen Candles.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 11:46 AM
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42

This is just the Hallucigenia of star systems.

Hooray, +1 for mentioning my dear friends from the Cambrian explosion.

||
Sorry to bust this up with a job hunting bleg, but: a family member is updating her resume and lists "social media" (+ some verb or whatever) as a capability, followed by a list of platforms. Will someone looking at this resume immediately try to pull up her FB, Twitter etc. profiles? She doesn't have any personal accounts except FB; she's done all this on behalf of organizations. Is it going to seem dubious to claim these skills if she doesn't have a carefully curated social media brand? I imagine reactions will vary among hiring organizations, but still. My gut feeling is that if you claim to be a social media [word expressing mastery, ninjutsu, etc.] you will be expected to back it up. She is legitimately busy as fuck and doesn't have time for personal tweets, so I hope I'm wrong that this could cost her. Thanks a lot for any input.
|>


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 12:00 PM
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42||: Can she point to any org feeds for which she's been responsible? I understand your concern, but IMO as long as she's not being hired primarily for social media presence, all you need to demonstrate is acuity, not mastery.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 12:14 PM
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Everyone should set their personal social media to private before going on the job market, even if one claims expertise in social media. If one has experience as social media creator for an organization, list the organization's page or hashtag or whatever on the resume so people look up the legitimate work-related experience ("managed twitter feed for political advocacy organization 2010-2015. #NAMBLA").


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 12:19 PM
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45

Thanks. That's reassuring and seems sensible. She is definitely savvy enough to control settings on personal FB and so on.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 1:15 PM
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20, 38 - Also, it's entirely possible that a civilization with enough energy etc. to totally rebuild its solar system from the ground up might still not be able to travel between stars in any meaningful fashion.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 1:19 PM
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46: it would take a hell of a lot more energy to disassemble a solar system. I mean, interstellar travel is imaginable for us now in theory. Megaton class Orion ships plus generational ecosystem. Impractical maybe but at least conceivable. I can't even imagine the sort of technology you would need for a Dyson sphere.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 1:49 PM
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48

It's just a big metal sphere. We can make a metal sphere, it's just a question of scaling up.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 1:52 PM
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49

I hope you've sent your resume in to Bernie for head of NASA.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 1:57 PM
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50

For unrelated reasons, I'm updating my resume as we speak.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 1:58 PM
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51

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise, which is basically just scaled-up bottle rocket.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 2:08 PM
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52

I'm much more impressed with myself now that I've read my resume. I should do this more often.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 3:16 PM
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53

Self-replicating probes are also conceivable with modest technological progress, and then you can rapidly explore the entire galaxy.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 6:37 PM
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54

50: New job?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 6:49 PM
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55

I can't even imagine the sort of technology you would need for a Dyson sphere.

I don't know, they seem pretty high tech, but not exactly unfathomable.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 7:09 PM
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56

54: Not yet.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 7:31 PM
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57

Good luck with it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 8:47 PM
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58

Thanks. Not sure I want it yet.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 8:54 PM
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59

I sort of planned on living the rest of my life in this city, not because it's great but because moving is such a shitty thing. It turns out that an alarmingly small number of dollars per hour is more attractive than death.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 9:12 PM
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60

That's what she said?


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10-15-15 11:46 PM
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61

59 is a slightly alarming career choice to have to make.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 1:07 AM
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Hallucigenia of star systems

I suspect that this analogy (sorry) will hold even to the point that further investigation of Hallucigenia showed that it was a lot less weird than it appeared at first sight.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 3:03 AM
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It's just a big metal sphere. We can make a metal sphere, it's just a question of scaling up.

Well, it's not just a metal sphere. Inherent in the concept is that the energy is captured and put to use, so presumably it needs pretty sophisticated and logistically complex electricity (or whatever) generation and transmission tech.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 6:23 AM
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64

Thank you for pointing out the tiny flaw in my otherwise sound plan to encircle an entire star with metal.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 6:25 AM
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65

Oh no, Moby, are you deburghing?


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 7:10 AM
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66

Not for certain. Probably not even more likely than not. Just pondering.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 7:16 AM
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67

are you deburghing?

Sounds either painful or gross.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 7:36 AM
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68

Right. Because of Eagles fans.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 7:55 AM
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66: I sincerely hope whatever happens you land on your feet.

67: it's the leading cause of the transmission of Primantis.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 7:55 AM
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Have you no sympathy for my poor ankle.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 7:56 AM
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A "Dyson sphere" not only wouldn't, but can't, be an actual solid spherical shell. The reason is that there's no net gravitational force on a solid spherical shell from any object inside the shell, so the sphere wouldn't stay in place and would smash into your planet. Lots of smaller objects works much much better.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:12 AM
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would smash into your planet

You mean into the sun? I thought the planets had probably all been disassembled into materials for the sphere.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:14 AM
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73

Thing should be called a Stapledon sphere, anyway.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:18 AM
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74

I think you just run a couple of sticks between the sphere and the sun to keep it locked.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:23 AM
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The Dyson Sphere is the awesomest vacuum cleaner ever! No more space junk!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:32 AM
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76

71: At first I wasn't convinced, but then I started thinking about it--I thought sufficiently fast rotation would ameliorate it, essentially simulating an orbit for each point on the surface. But the strength maintaining the spherical (or ring-like, for that mater) shape would pull the points on the sphere/ring out of their orbit, so it could be fixed by making it flexible enough to deform a bit. And take that to the limit and you're back to a Dyson swarm. Cool.

I think us doing this research now is really just a favor to the engineers of the 28th century, for when they have to explain to the autocratic ruler of the earth that we've long known that their white elephant prestige project isn't going to work.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:42 AM
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63.--Yesterday I reread the Wikipedia article on Dyson Sphere about four times before realizing that the question of harvesting the energy from the collectors was left as an exercise for the reader.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:44 AM
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I think at this point in history there's enough data on human nature that we can safely say that different engineers would be using it to explain to journalists how the engineers who built it for the autocratic ruler should have known it would end in catastrophe.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 8:54 AM
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76: Spinning doesn't work but not because deformation; there is still no net force on the sun. The interior gravitational potential due to the sphere is constant.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:10 AM
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Why do you need net force on the sun? Can't it just orbit whatever the sun is orbiting (galactic center or whatever)?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:13 AM
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Maybe you could stabilize the sphere by interacting with the solar wind, or steer it by changing the reflectivity of parts of its interior.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:16 AM
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82

Or poke at the sun with a giant stick.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:18 AM
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83

White elephant projects CAN work, if these nerds would just work a little harder.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:20 AM
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You have to think like the commies did when building canals. The actual movement of goods by water is a secondary aim.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:23 AM
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79: I don't think we're disagreeing. I was saying that deformation--relaxing the sphericity requirement--is the solution, not the problem. And it really only solves it when you completely relax that requirement.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:52 AM
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That's what pissed me off about the whole "bridge to nowhere" thing. Bridges to nowhere are exactly what we SHOULD be building! What's the use of having the rich world's largest incarcerated population if we can't get some monumental architecture out of it? Why do we need anyone, anywhere to be unemployed when they could be building sky-elevators or giant triumphal arches in our major cities?


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:53 AM
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74: Seriously, you're a cinch for this NASA job.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:54 AM
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83: Halfordismo is ready to hit the ground running.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:55 AM
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Building a Dyson sphere with prison labor would be like if the USSR tried to launch Sputnik by having gulag inmates stand atop each others' shoulders until the top one is in space. It requires much more energy than the state (even assuming a very huge future state) can extract from regular humans.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 9:58 AM
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Or alternatively, really everyone needs to be available to be prison labor. I guess you do need people to put together the individual components and mine Neptune for methane or whatever. Probably faster and cheaper with Von Neumann machines, though.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:01 AM
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WRONG. Say what you will about Stalinist prison labor, but it could do things like create the world's best-named road, the Road of Bones. I'm sure we could "incentivize" the subscriber list of Reason Magazine properly to build the space-dome you guys are talking about.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:04 AM
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You'd run out of libertarians. Feature not a bug, I suppose.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:07 AM
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Why do we need anyone, anywhere to be unemployed when they could be building sky-elevators or giant triumphal arches in our major cities?


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:10 AM
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Speaking of Dyson, apparently he's a climate change...nihilist? "Truther" and "denialist" aren't quite right.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:15 AM
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I'm just surprised to learn that Dyson's still alive. (Maddeningly autocorect kept wanting to change the "s" after the apostrophe with an "a". What is that even?)


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:26 AM
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Do you often write Arrakisian on your phone while still technically in English mode? That might be throwing off what it expects comes after an apostrophe.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:39 AM
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I knew that about Dyson. But honestly, why should it be surprising that someone like Dyson thinks that the best way to deal with climate change is planet-sized engineering projects? I mean he is the Dyson sphere guy. I also think that a certain amount of pessimism that it's too late to do anything on the emissions side anyway is pretty reasonable, the weird thing about Dyson is his optimism that we'll be able to deal with it in other ways. (Presumably he doesn't really care if 100 million people's lives are ruined in Bangladesh, so long as we eventually colonize the solar system. So there's an (a)moral aspect to his point of view as well.)


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:40 AM
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96 Not that much but that could be it. I also bought my phone here and there are these regional specific things.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 10:53 AM
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Do you often write Arrakisian

Chakobsa!


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 11:44 AM
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100

Kobe found orbiting another star.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 11:49 AM
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the question of harvesting the energy from the collectors was left as an exercise for the reader.

You could probably just plant kudzu, and hack it down with giant space-mowers from time to time. Then, I don't know, turn it into ethanol?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 12:22 PM
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Chakobsa!

Bhotani jib!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 12:54 PM
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97: You're going too easy on Dyson. Like a number of other important people in Princeton, he thinks he's just so much smarter than climate scientists that random pronouncements he pulls out of his ass are more accurate than their published papers. There's no excuse for this kind of arrogant dismissal of real science, especially when the stakes are so high.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-16-15 2:40 PM
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