Targeting habitable worlds for exploration

Think of where we are, just now. The journal Nature reports on research that provides a testable model for analyzing and, ultimately, visualizing remote worlds for the potential habitability of Earth-like destinations for exploration. Basically, using multiple observations of a planet as large as the planet Uranus in our solar system in transit of its star, the team has built a model that, if confirmed by the James Webb Space Telescope when it is deployed in 2018, confirms the model accurately allows us to predict — and refine our analysis of — the planet’s ability to host life, assuming there is not something on a habitable planet more dominant than ourselves that will annihilate us on arrival, and support colonization by humans or their machines.

Think about that. Like the Dutch company that this week announced it has about one thousand candidates it will send to Mars on a one-way trip, humans can start to make long-term bets on distant colonies by banking the claim represented by a ship or fleet headed off in some direction once it leaves. Even if that ship is not the first to arrive from Earth, it would still represent the initial claim to the planet. So, if space travel could be speeded to or past the speed of light and a later flight arrived first, the initial pioneers’ ancestors would retain their share of the planet, which could even be adjusted for future value as the first travelers’ confidence is reinforced by later followers, even if the followers got their first.

For most of my life, punctuated by my childhood fascination with space travel and the Moon, as well as in the 40- to 90-minute portions of my attention devoted in their hundreds and thousands to Star Trek throughout the past 50 years, I have not believed that man could leave the immediate neighborhood of this planet and its Moon. Maybe it is passing 50 years of age with some advanced aircraft-grade titanium cervical disc replacements. But I’ve come to see that the pioneering of space is the next shitty, but necessary, stretch of road humanity needs to walk in order to take any larger place in the Cosmos than it already has had the audacity to imagine.

Or, perhaps, this exercise in futurism will merely make it clear that mining my neck for its titanium is less profitable, but also much less risky than traveling to a planet orbiting a distant star, and I’ve sealed my own fate by enabling the short-sighted to consume the hearty and spirited men of their times for scrap metal. For anyone missing that this is meant satirically, titanium is not a particularly valuable metal. Really.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Why Game 3 of the ALDS 2001 tells the future

I’m watching Game Three of the 2001 ALDS between the A’s and the Yankees, which tells a lot about how teams win the World Championship (Hooray for the MBL Games on iTunes). The A’s are a superior team in retrospect. So many enduring (not necessarily great) players are on the Athletics squad, including Johnny Damon, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez (I feel for his back injuries) and Jason Giambi, the future Yankee, as well as Barry Zito, the notoriously overpaid Giant. My Mariners got beat this same night to lead to the showdown with the Indians, after winning 116 games (oh, what a season to see!).

This is the game that made Derek Jeter a Yankee Great — the flip to home plate to get a key out Jason Giambi at home (see this incredible, ever-thrilling clip). This is the game that set the stage for the Yankees v. Indians, which led to the classic Arizona World Series.

Oh, I love this game.

Another knick in cycling’s heavily damaged body

BBC SPORT | Boonen banned from Tour de France:

Former world champion Tom Boonen will not be allowed to compete at next month’s Tour de France after testing positive for cocaine.

With last year’s Tour winner, Alberto Contador, out of this year’s Tour because he rides for Team Astana, which was banned for doping after last year’s race, this year’s Tour de France is looking pretty frayed even before it begins. Contador won a classic Giro d’Italia last week and looks like the odd’s-on favorite to win in Paris in July, if only he were riding.

Greenhouse spin: In fact, the air you breathe is less free and less clean

There’s really no good news in this report about 2004 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but the Bush agenda is spun in nonetheless, trying to make a stink into perfume…..

DECEMBER 16, 2005

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Grow but Intensity Falls in 2004

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 2.0 percent in 2004,

from 6,983.2 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e)

in 2003 to 7,122.1 MMTCO2e in 2004, according to “Emissions of

Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2004″, a report released today

by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). U.S. greenhouse gas

emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell from 677

metric tons per million 2000 constant dollars of GDP (MTCO2e/$Million

GDP) in 2003 to 662 MTCO2e /$Million GDP in 2004, a decline of 2.1


But, wait, if you read all the way down the report summary, you’ll find that the annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions during the 1990s was just north of half the 2004 increase, and yet the economy was growing faster for most of the 1990s. Likewise, you’ll find that the Bush approach to the environment has reduced the amount of carbon dioxide “sequestered” in forests for the first time in a decade (that is, there were not enough trees to process that carbon dioxide into oxygen compared to during the 1990s).

The 2004 increase is well below the rate of economic growth of 4.2

percent but above the average annual growth rate of 1.1 percent in

greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. Emissions of carbon dioxide

and methane increased by 1.7 and 0.9 percent respectively, while

emissions of nitrous oxide and engineered gases rose by 5.5 and 9.6

percent respectively.

+ Emissions of carbon dioxide from energy consumption and industrial

processes grew by 1.7 percent from 5,871.8 million metric tons in

2003 to 5,973.0 million metric tons in 2004. Since 1990, carbon

dioxide emissions have risen by about 19 percent.

More than a 10th of the increase over 15 years happened last year.

+ Methane emissions rose by 0.9 percent from 633.9 MMTCO2e to 639.5

MMTCO2e. The increase is attributable mainly to greater methane

emissions from landfills, while smaller increases from animal

waste, rice cultivation, and coal mining also contributed to the

total growth. Since 1990, methane emissions have declined by more

than 11 percent.

After falling over a decade, methane emissions are increasing.

+ Nitrous oxide emissions increased from 335.2 MMTCO2e in 2003 to

353.7 MMTCO2e in 2004 (5.5 percent) mainly because of increases

in emissions from agricultural sources, which rose by 17.4 MMTCO2e,

comprising 94 percent of the total increase. Nitrous oxide

emissions are above 1990 levels for the first time since 2001.

+ Emissions from three classes of engineered gases –

hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur

hexafluoride (SF6) – increased by 9.6 percent from 142.4 MMTCO2e

in 2003 to 155.9 MMTCO2e in 2004. As a group, these gases have

grown by 77 percent since 1990, but from very small initial levels.

Again, more than 10 percent of the increase since 1990 happened last year.

+ In 1990, land use change and forestry practices sequestered enough

carbon dioxide to offset 16.9 percent of U.S. anthropogenic

greenhouse gas emissions. In 2003 (the last year of available data)

that offset declined to 11.9 percent.


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Under President Bush, there aren’t as many forests to consume the C-O2 we produce. When you hear about drilling for oil in ANWAR, think about the fact that the forest is one of our last remaining natural C-O2 sinks.

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Record productivity doesn’t mean record earning for workers?

Productivity and Costs, Third Quarter 2005, Revised :

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor today reported revised productivity data–as measured by output per hour of all persons–for the third quarter of 2005. The seasonally adjusted annual rates of productivity growth in the third quarter were:

5.4 percent in the business sector and

4.7 percent in the nonfarm business sector.

The record profits at many companies are coming not only from investment and managers, but the people doing the work. Yet the average family’s earnings are falling behind inflation for the fifth year in a row. Meanwhile, President Bush has cut (later restored by Congress) minimum wage laws in disaster areas to make it easier for companies to exploit the situation along the Gulf Coast. The Republican-managed economy is one where the rich only get richer while the rest of us hope for scraps from the table.

There’s something divisive astride the United States and it’s going to contribute to increased anger among Americans, which is not what we need at a time when pulling together is the most important thing we can do.

Process matters, it really does

Process matters:

In fact, meticulously defined and managed processes continue to be a powerful source of competitive advantage for many companies. Look at Toyota, for instance. Its highly engineered manufacturing processes not only give it superior productivity but also provide a platform for constant learning and improvement. The formal structure, which is anything but democratic, spurs both efficiency and innovation – productive innovation – simultaneously. Structured, well-thought-out processes are also essential to most knowledge work, from product development to financial analysis to software engineering to sales and marketing. And the more complex the effort, the greater the need for clear processes. Far from making business less effective and agile, the increasing attention to process has increased effectiveness and agility.

If Mayfield had narrowed his argument, focusing on the way knowledge workers collaborate in certain situations, rather than on business processes in general, he would have been much more compelling. The simple group-forming and information-sharing software tools now being introduced and refined will often provide greater flexibility and effectiveness than more complex “knowledge management” systems. But even in these cases, processes aren’t going away; they’re just changing. There can’t be organization without process.

I’m with Nicholas Carr on this one, despite my close friendship with Ross Mayfield and being on the Socialtext board of advisors. I’d been thinking a lot about Ross’ posting on The End of Process, and Carr summarizes my concerns about the idea that business organizations are entering a “post-process” era.

Looking back at my comments about the value of process in newsgathering, where I made the point that we have to have processes that account for the weaknesses of participants (in the case of journalism, it’s the tendency to be subjective and biased that is checked by an effective editorial process) I find it hard to imagine what an “organization” without process could look like. After all, we enter into relationships based on a set of expectations—a process for fulfilling those expectations—not simply on trust. Carr’s assertion that if Ross had narrowed his argument he would have made a more effective point is correct. I can imagine organizations that define themselves through emergent processes, but not an organization without processes.

In talking about applications of technology to democratic goals, too, there has been a persistent subtext in technical discussions that suggests process is irrelevant (which could just be reflective of a techno-anarchism, but I am not an anarchist). However, it’s impossible to engineer process out of democratic deliberation, because there must be an agreed upon set of rules—in the United States, it’s the Constitution—for coming to a collective decision (whether simple or super majority) about policy. Tools need to be flexible in order to accommodate new processes if we’re going to achieve “emergent” systems for social action; tools engineered to defeat process undermine the participants’ agreements.

Wiki is an excellent foundation for exploring new relationships through the information we seek to share. Likewise, it is a great foundation for working out what processes a group might apply to achieving its goals. But there is always process, we simply don’t accept process for process’ sake anymore, which is a Very Good Thing.

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