Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why Blog?

A few years ago, as an out branching of technical capability and enormous increases in storage and processing capacity, the “blog” was developed.

"Web logging" or "blogging" is merely writing things down on a web page in a more or less regular fashion and perhaps linking to other sites that seem relevant or interesting.

My blog(s) are not all that interesting. I know this is true. I could purposely make them more interesting, certainly, such as by filling them with slander and obscenities, or posting gruesome images, or simply telling lies. I could write stories, post pictures of horribly mutilated bodies, or just babble on about programming futuristic computers, or write something else that would attract a specific category of person to this website.

But I am not a journalist, nor a novelist, nor a teenage boy filled with angst or a need to express gutter talk or whatever jargon of the hideous is in vogue. I am not looking for love, nor looking for hate – I really don't care all that much for emotional tripe and drama. I'm too old to get into flame wars and too young to just stop all this writing to just watch the grass grow.

I am a scientist, but I reserve true scientific journaling to another set of documents, or inside computer software, or recordings of the drawings on white boards, that sort of thing. I don't want to take the painstaking care to write symbols and taxonomies and attributions in such intricate detail when I write in a blog. Whatever readers this blog might have are most likely not very interested in such pedantic detail, although I can't ever be completely certain.

I still like to write about scientific things, or at least about technical things. I don't want to just lie about stuff, so I never claim to invent things I never invented. At the same time I don't want to simply give away the things I really have invented, so I won't write so much about such things in this blog.

But I would write about things in which simple opinion might be more fitting than pedantic obsessions. Such things as Global Warming fit that bill, of which I have some interest but have no academic degrees in those specific branches of study. So far as the climate is concerned, I don't think there is any question that pollution is a problem, and that mankind has done a terrible thing to our home planet.

Some may argue whether CO2 or Methane will accumulate to a catastrophic level, or whether simply driving too many gasoline engine vehicles is causing global warming, or any kind of change in the weather. Perhaps the central star in our system is the “guilty party” if the climate changes, or perhaps the climate just changes all the time for myriad complicated reasons having nothing to do with mankind. Certainly, the climate has changed many, many times before, and without humans to blame.

But arguing about those things is merely politics. Republicans tend to believe that oil is good and CO2 is not a problem. Democrats tend to believe the opposite. After all, the Bible does not talk about oil, or the climate, so it must not be important.

Politics, whichever side you are on, is the most certain evil. It creates bad blood and hostility between groups of people. That is what is certain and what is deadly, and no one can deny it.

It is also true that pollution is bad and that mankind is polluting everything in a destructive, suicidal manner -- regardless of its effect on the climate. It doesn't matter what happens to the weather, hot or cold, if we poison the entire world, kill all the fish, burn all the forests, reduce everything to a mass of decomposing goop – all in the name of rampant consumer capitalism and rich oil companies.

Communism is really no better than capitalism. Socialism (a more generic form of Communism) is no better than Tribalism or Militarism. All these belief systems do is temporarily change the behavior of vast numbers of people, and then return to the old habits that humans have always had, regardless of the good or the bad.

When we were just small tribes it was OK to burn stuff and move on, since we were too few to hurt the whole world. But even small tribes, over time, could kill off all the mastodons and woolly mammoths -- therefore we have always altered the world in some way. The problem is not a philosophy of good or bad – it is about survival. It is evolution, and about whether or not our species, or any species at all, can keep surviving.

Many people have been murdered in the name of one "ism" or another. Religion is famously guilty of hypocrisy, and many wars, executions, tortures and imprisonments have been performed in the name of some mental concept that really has no bearing on physical survival. When the whim of a sadistic king or the ravings of a maniacal holy man can result in the disemboweling of young children, then there are problems the the setup.

Making sense out of the world is a very difficult exercise. Elephants and lions and crocodiles also have to make some sense out of their respective points of view, and man is merely another sort of animal. Man does have a far more complex point of view, however, given the recursive effects of technology upon our impact on the world, so there is no pretending that we can just live our lives with the same disregard as sparrows and be able to survive fat and sassy. For that matter, even sparrows must obey the rules of flight and select just the right objects to eat, or they will not survive, either. They must also figure out how to adapt to a world that we have altered.

But the world is so incredibly complex that it seems to disobey the laws of entropy. Entropy does cause things to become disordered, or mixed together in hopelessly inseparable jumbles. So in that sense, entropy causes complexity. Yet this kind of complexity is mostly useless (but not entirely, as I will write of...), since the usual value in something, say gold, is because it has been refined and concentrated. I can give you an ounce of gold by giving you billions of gallons of seawater, but you would not be happy with that gold (and nearly every other element) since it is hopelessly mixed together with useless salts and slag and huge amounts of H20.

How could a machine sort gold from seawater? The act of sorting is a non-entropy function. The goal is to create order out of disorder. Not to mention the desire and mechanical intelligence humans have to sit there and sort things, it takes energy to sort things.

Heat can be used to melt things, and thereby separate heavier, denser materials like gold from lighter things like water, salts and other grime. The water would evaporate when hot enough to melt gold, so that problem would be easy – the vapor floats up into the clouds. Other things, like salts, might not melt easily, although they might be washed away with hot water, but not so much with gold.

So nature already has such means to separate gold from seawater. The underground geothermal cauldron mixes hot magma with wet sea floor and produces all kinds of metal precipitants, as well as minerals and other valuable materials, in addition to gold. However, there are also other complexities involved, such as the way volcanoes form, the releases of gases at different temperatures and pressures, and from the way solid rock cracks and fissures from the forces of tectonics.

Man is able to mechanically re-create these forces in miniature, sometimes, and thereby synthesize the formation of gold. Yet, even today, there is much more cost involved to chemically process huge masses of seawater compared to just digging a hole and finding solid lumps and veins of gold. Similarly, it is much simpler for me to just walk by the sea shore and pickup various seashells and stones than it would be for me to re-create such things with machines.

As time goes on, however, and all the easy places to find gold are completely panned out, then it may indeed be easier to chemically process seawater to obtain gold.

Food is considerably more valuable than gold. It is sometimes hard to believe, since any given weight of food is probably worth less than the same weight in gold, that is only an economic issue. An animal could be surrounded by pure gold and starve to death, so the animal sees no value whatsoever in gold.

Copper is another metal that is easier to get than gold, as well as being more common in seawater and other mixtures. For one thing, copper is able to recombine with other elements to form other chemicals and minerals. Gold is not so easily combined. Gold does have oxides, but the chemical bonds are so weak that the oxygen can be sucked away by static in the air. Conversely, copper sulfate is so tightly bound as copper and sulfur that only great effort and energy would be able to unbind them (yet, not so difficult as separating silicon and oxygen.)

Gold is better than copper for many reasons. Gold is heavier, it is less corrosive, it carries an electrical current with much less resistance and it is generally a prettier color (to human eyes.) Yet, so far as history is concerned, copper – in the form of bronze – was a more useful tool than gold. Many arrow heads, knives, swords, spears, shields and machine parts were constructed using the copper and tin mixtures called bronze.

Gold is also better than steel or even silver and most of the same things. Steel can be made as an alloy that is “stainless” similar to gold, however the main element iron is found almost everywhere on earth in large quantities, and almost no gold can be found by comparison. Iron is in our blood, in many stones, in dust and soil, and is mostly known as rust or reddish colored soil.

Iron is also at the heart of our planet in the form of a massive molten core (or at least very very hot, but at the pressure found there it may be nearly solid). Iron gives us the magnetic fields and protection from certain amounts of radiation. Yet, the radiation at the center of the Earth is probably very high too, in the form of nuclear fission by uranium and other radioactive elements. This radioactive stuff is thought to be running down, leaving our planet both somewhat cooler and without a protective radiation shield at some point in the relatively near future. Don't count on that to save us from “global warming”.

Yet, there will always be some convection currents of melted rock mixed with molten iron around the core for millions of years to come, so I think the effects will be very gradual, and probable that the sun will have come to a bad state before then. We will be dead long before then, though. Extinction of all life will eventually come, like a battery that runs down, without able to be recharged, no matter what we do.

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