Monday, August 1, 2022

Failsafe Nuclear Shipping and a CANAUSUK solution

 The NRC approval of a NuScale design is an important milestone for new nuclear power. The design features failsafe capabilities:

  • The control rods which stop the chain reaction are not lowered by power. Instead they are held up with power and fall down without power, turning the reactor off.
  • The cooling is by immersion in water which cools by convection. The water near the reactor warms and rises, moves to the side where it cools and falls, thus cycling around without the need of power.

For a nuclear powered ship we will use seawater to quickly cool the inner (pure) water, so that not as much is required normally. Power would be used to pump the seawater out, so that the ship doesn't carry more than needed, but when the power is cut the seawater will fill a space so that there is enough to do power-free cooling, as above.

I'm a supporter of CANZUK, in fact I independently invented the acronym before I knew other had beaten me to it (seven years ago: However we'll leave NZ out of the following because they are so anti-nuclear. Let us consider a CANAUSUK federation of Canada, Australia and the UK. Our united country might well be called The Maritime Kingdom, or Maritimia.

Maritimia is a natural ally of the US, but it is a parlimentary democracy and Kingdom. It is well connected by Internet and air transport, but to move substantial physical stuff around it would be nice if sea transport was faster and carbon-free. The ideal solution is nuclear powered shipping. A nice advantage that Maritimia has, is that it is not opposed to government led commercial activity. Indeed I think public acceptance of nuclear shipping will be enhanced if it was under the direct control of the well-trusted CANAUSUK governments,

Beyond that, the whole world will be well served by nuclear shipping free of carbon and other pollution. The CANAUSUK governments are well respected and I think many places would be comfortable using nuclear shipping from such a confederation government. Shipping is a part of the world's CO2 problem, and this is a way to address it.

Bonobos and sex symmetry and maybe us

Bonobos are the closest species to humans, looking similar to Chimps but with a very different social structure. Humans share many traits with bonobos, perhaps more than we always admit.

If you put a male and female bonobo together in captivity, then the slightly larger male will dominate and have preferential access to food and other resources. However if you put a male in with two females then the females will cooperate and dominate. That's how it was explained, probably in one of Frans de Waal's excellent books. But just recently I had a think about this.

There is a symmetry between the sexes which works like this: If one sex has some characteristic that is advantageous, then the other sex will have a significant reaction to this. Commonly they will want to evaluate how well individuals perform, but also they will adjust their behaviour to fit in.

So I wonder if it is really necessary for the two females to explicitly cooperate to dominate the male. It seems more likely the male has a different response when there are two females, based on the knowledge that they will cooperate.

I suspect humans are like that. If there are two or more women together, then men are inclined to behave themselves. However humans aren't like bonobos:

  • Humans pair up to raise babies. Women prefer not to share a good husband if they can find one.
  • Humans have mostly solved the problem of safe relations between one man and one woman. The real estate industry says that 90% of real estate decisions are taken by the woman in the relationship. I think this extends to all aspects of family life. In the main women dominate that part of life and most men are happy with that.

Most young men are happy to find a nice partner who will look after family life and tell them what to do. However there is a limited supply of such men. Rather than giving up, I think women should also be open to setting up a family situation with another woman (or even more), and keeping male company to well controlled situations where, in particular, more than one woman is present.

There are many cultures in which the male and female worlds are significantly separated so I think this sort of arrangement is quite compatible with human nature. Indeed I think many young women today bring men in to their bed in their parents' home. This is a safe way to start on adult life, and if babies arrive then grandparents are usually delighted to help with that.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Who to eliminate in STV (Preferential) Voting

I just worked out: You shouldn't eliminate candidates from the bottom (unless the following fails). Instead, eliminate every candidate who can't win on a preference distribution against any other remaining candidate. Thank you Brisbane and McNamara electorates (in the Australian 2022 election) for pointing this out.

If a seat elects N people then eliminate everybody who can't get a quota against any other set of remaining N candidates. This could be computationally expensive, particularly when combined with my method for determining the quota ( when every set will lead to a different quota.

In case anyone misses the point, this is why we sometimes fall back on eliminating the lowest vote: Suppose 3 candidates are left A, B and C. If A is left out B beats C, if B is left out C beats A, if C is left out A beats B. So my proposal doesn't eliminate anyone.

Another idea I had once was that we send the top two candidates to parliament, but when they vote in parliament their vote is weighted by their electoral vote. The main advantage of this is that it doesn't matter if electorates have different sizes, so they can be more uniform. To do this with the above plan: First do it as an electorate determining 2 winners, with quota 1/3. Then those two get all their first preferences plus votes transferred from eliminated candidates.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

My understanding of COVID-19

Human cells that are in contact with the outside world include the gut, airways, and skin. These get replaced regularly because they are subject to damage and disease.

 Viruses infecting these externally accessible cells don't want to get into the blood stream and affect internal organs. They want people to be well enough to move around and infect other people. So we see that there are a lot of respiratory and throat viruses that cause mild disease, and this includes various coronaviruses.

The exceptions are diseases that have only recently made the jump from other species. Initially they can be quite dangerous. New variants will be more successful if they are milder. That's what we've seen with covid-19. Indeed, it doesn't seem unlikely that covid-19 will eventually settle down to be just another "cold".

When covid first hit, vaccination development started, and soon there was talk of the need to vaccinate the whole world. That didn't happen. The virus running unchecked in many poorer places led to variants, and concern was expressed that they might be more dangerous. But, as epidemiologists must have suspected, it was milder variants that won the day. One cannot help but wonder if this policy of benign neglect in other poorer countries was deliberate, or just, as it seemed to be, laziness. Sweden also let the disease run more than most richer places. Were they doing their bit to encourage milder variants?

Influenza never makes this change to milder variants. I presume this is because it is always making the jump from birds, so we're always dealing with new variants.

An interesting feature of the pandemic where I live was that there was initially denial that it spread through the air. So there was no recommendation to wear masks, though many did. At that time I tried to buy masks, but they were all sold out. Then the story changed and it was admitted that there was aerial transmission, and masks were recommended. And bingo, suddenly they were available everywhere. Was this a coincidence? I don't think so. They didn't want to even recommend masks when you couldn't get them. Soon after that they were required in many situations.

Transmission has always been low in outdoor settings with sunshine. So many of the bans that happened were undesirable. People would have been safer if they got some vitamin-D in the sun. I also think that we can provide more UV in indoor settings. A big UV lamp might be dangerous, but we can now provide strip lighting with small amounts of UV coming from multiple places and illuminating everywhere better than central lights. Unfortunately the anti-UV lobby has a big hold on the public imagination.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Nuclear versus Wind+Solar

Quoting John Baez tweet, I wrote this thread:

Supporting both is the best strategy for an important influencer like Dr Baez. I'm not an influencer and I think people should be aware of a few issues:

1. Voters with concerns for the environment support wind+solar. But the resulting RE industry is doing it for profit, not for the environment. For them nuclear is the enemy, just as it is for the fossil fuel industry.

2. The RE industry needs gas just as the gas industry needs RE. They are in an unholy anti-nuclear alliance. A lot of money goes from that alliance to supposedly environmental organisations which are then faced with perverse incentive in opposition to their claimed mission.

3. Nuclear done right avoids the environmentally destructive industrialisation of the landscape that is shown in the linked news item. We can also have less dams which are even worse for the environment (unless built by beavers).

Also somebody asked how to address fears about nuclear and I wrote:

(1) Address the exaggerated concerns about radiation. Veritasium's video is a good place to start: (2) Point out that Chernobyl didn't have containment and didn't cause the predicted cancer spike. (3) modern reactors have to be walk-away safe.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

536 and the Anglo-Saxon non-invasion of England

 I've seen a couple of videos from respectable sources that downplay the idea that there was an Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain after the Romans left.

I also watched a video about the infamous 536 AD volcanic eruption, which produced the worst year in history in Europe: "The Mystery Volcanic Eruption in 536; The Year of Hell". This is from the excellent GeologyHub. There were 2 big eruptions close together. The 536AD one was probably in Iceland or Alaska and mostly affected the Northern Hemisphere. The 540AD one was even bigger, coming from near Krakatau (aka Krakatoa). It affected the whole world, but merely added to the misery in Europe.

Ship building and sailing expertise was improving rapidly in the centuries on either side of 410AD when the Romans left Britain. The North Sea was a highway, linking navigable rivers on both sides. So in 410 there were already plenty of people from across the North Sea enjoying the Pax Romana in Britain, and the work opportunities it provided, such as in the army.

The change when the Romans left was that land travel in Britain became less safe and less efficient. Travel by boat was the glue that linked parts of Britain together, but also linked Britain, particularly the East coast, to the people of North-West Europe.

After 410, trade was by boat, and the traders were from those Germanic people in NW Europe. They didn't speak Latin or the British languages. They probably all grew up speaking local languages, but a trade network like that develops a common language, just as bahasa Indonesia developed across Indonesia. That language became a natural lingua franca in England as well. Everybody had to learn it to trade, and it then facilitated communication with other people in England. And it was a prestige language. No wonder it took off, replacing Latin as "the language everyone knew".

Then 536-7 hit, and a little bit later 540. The weakened population was susceptible to the Plague of Justinian that then followed. It is almost certain that Britain was substantially depopulated. The people who had a big advantage in surviving were those who could turn to the sea for food. These were the people around the coast who were most influenced by the "Anglo-Saxon" ship traders. Surviving people then came together in communities that were more mixed, and were even more inclined to take up the common language and other culture of the wealthy traders.

The North Sea was a connected world that Britain was a part of. The connection is still apparent. As the Frisians say: "Good butter and good cheese is good English and good Frieze".

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Climate Change and the wider Anthropocene

Climate Change and the wider Anthropocene

Brian Wang's proposals in Trillions Already Wasted in the Name of Fixing Climate Change But What Would Fix the Climate ? | might or might not be optimal, but hopefully we can agree that "Costs of over $100 per ton of CO2 mitigation are stupid for a trillion-ton CO2 problem.".

I agree with Brian that improving the health and productivity of the world's oceans is a likely route to reducing atmospheric CO2 and ocean acidification. I was pleased to see that in Australia, CSIRO is investigating ocean fertilization: Ashes to ashes, dust to life: how iron improves anaemic oceans – CSIROscope.


One of the problems that is claimed to be caused by Climate Change is the increased severity of wildfires (called bushfires in Australia). There is a little bit of truth in this, because the increase in CO₂ and water in the air increases plant growth. But really the problem is this:
Vegetation without herbivores is an environmental disaster.

Fire is the herbivore of last resort.

The herbivores that you need to stop the understorey of forests building up to dangerous levels are the megafauna, which have sadly disappeared from most of the world outside Africa. I used to think that we needed to completely take over the role of megafauna, perhaps using fire as the Australian Aboriginal people did so successfully. The use of fire seems regrettable in our current situation, and it may not be necessary. We can use middle-sized fauna to eat through the underbrush (and also fertilise the land) if we help it by pushing over or cutting the larger stuff down to a level the animals can reach. Here's a video on using goats to improve the land: 


Photos of degraded land are often shown as if associated with Climate Change. In fact the problem is almost invariably:
Herbivores without predators are an ecological disaster.

We see that in Australia with feral horses in the High Country, camels in central Australia, water buffalo in the north, and often kangeroos anywhere. Famously wolves were introduced to Yellowstone National Park and the land regenerated because the deer changed their behaviour. In places like Australia where plant growth varies a lot from year to year, preadators are very likely to suffer boom and bust that is out of sync with the herbivores. We see this with the mouse plague at the moment. By the time feral cat populations rise it is too late. At any rate there is no chance that Australia will introduce predators large enough to deal with the larger herbivores.

Humans need to fill the role of the top predator, and indeed we can do it in a way that protects the herbivore population as well as preserving the flora. Unfortunately there is strong opposition to culling. But this is where the pandemic comes to our rescue. People are now used to hearing "On the best scientific advice we are going to do X", where X is something people don't like. Let's extend this to environmental actions. "On the best scientific advice we are going to cull species X to allow the regeneration of its environment".

We need to manage the landscape of Australia much better, as the Aboriginal people did before European arrival. To do it we need to collect a lot more data to understand what's happening. Luckily technology is to hand. We can do a lot from satellites. On the ground we can install unattended intelligent monitoring that uses solar power and communicates its findings by 4G or satellite. Maybe people would like to adopt a monitoring station and check the pictures and sound and other data for things like: animals, birds, insects and weather.

This is important for addressing climate change because a landscape with a healthy level of vegetation will take advantage of the rain that falls and stash the water away. Rain on degraded land is much more likely to evaporate, and though it will fall as rain later that might be over water or other useless place. We know that where plants grow the soil improves and stores carbon.

Update 2022-06-21: This video on "Dingoes save the outback" makes the point beautifully:


We all experience that drought years are warmer than rainy years. It is natural for the voters to assume that global warming will be associated with droughts. Droughts certainly raise the public's concern about the changing climate.

This is a misunderstanding. As the oceans warm there is increasing evaporation and, in general, more rain. Historically the ice ages were cold and dry, and the interglacials were, and are, warm and wet. The last time the world was significantly warmer than now, there were rain forests extending nearly to the poles.

However climate change does shuffle the deck. It is guaranteed to make most places wetter, but it can and probably will make some places drier. Some climate models show southern Australia getting drier, and that would be inconvenient because that is where most agricultural production happens.


Let's build on the experience of the pandemic to get scientific and engineering advice front and centre of the decisions we need to make to fix the problems of the Anthropocene, including the problem of global warming.

It is an easy out to declare that a particular problem is caused by global warming. All problems need to be addressed, and fixing the greenhouse gas levels is unlikely to be the immediate solution for any of them.

In the context of our increasingly wealthy worldwide civilization, global warming is a fixable problem that is not going to cause any huge loss of human life. It is very bad for biodiversity, particularly in the oceans where acidification makes it a double whammy. I think even the Greens know all this. If they really believed the danger was as great as they say, then how could they also continue to argue that nuclear power should not even be given any consideration?

There is now a lot of money getting allocated to address climate change. While most people are keen to fix the problem, there are also a lot who are thinking "How can I get my hands on that money?". Voters need to be aware of this so that they can turn on their radar, even if their radar isn't very good. Unfortunately the linkages between the wealthy and the politicians mean that governments will not protect us as much as we would hope. Parliamentary enquiry will be crucial and needs to be better resourced.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Interactive Video for Education

Interactive Video for Education

Recordeded lectures don't work well for education: Why too many recorded lecture videos may be bad for maths students' learning ( This applies to educational videos in general, not just lectures. Even if we pay attention, it just washes over us, giving a warm glow of understanding that actually lacks the depth to answer questions in the subject area. It is also boring when you know some of the subject matter and are keen to get to the stuff that is new to you.

It is now possible to control video in a browser with javascript. This is currently available in Safari, and with experimental settings in other browsers. This provides the opportunity to turn watching into a more engaged experience, and to pick up when the viewer has missed something. Here's the plan:
  • With the lecture on one frame, another frame shows a sequence of easy multiple choice or short answer questions. The viewer is told not to guess.
  • If the viewer answers questions before that part of the video has past, then the video will jump past that material.
  • There is an "I don't know" answer for questions, but it is greyed out until the user gets past the relevant part of the video.
  • When the video has gone past the material for a question then the video pauses waiting for the viewer to answer.
  • If the viewer answer "I don't know" then something useful happens, such as showing an alternative explanation, or repeating a section, or getting a tutor or other viewer involved. Wrong answers might have more complicated responses.
  • The video can also have some larger questions which are associated with longer breaks. These might require human evaluation, so might be timed to when a tutor is available to evaluate it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Compensating for the loss of the Megafauna

The destruction of the Megafauna was an understandable mistake by our ancestors. They then learnt how to compensate for that loss using fire. Here's a nice article on how native Australians did that:

Global warming seems to start earlier than one would expect at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Of course a lot of other stuff was going on around the world at that time. One thing was whaling on a huge scale. Well it turns out that whale poo is an important fertiliser in the ocean, and dead whales carry a lot of carbon to the ocean floor. The whales will come back in a few centuries, but meanwhile we need to do their job to get the oceans full of fish again:

And as in my previous post (, the megafauna were important in sequestering carbon in the Arctic, and replacement is not impossible.

Update: Another great video with stuff I didn't know about humans compensating for problems: In this case, Thiamine deficiency in wild animals and fish, probably not related to megafauna extinction.

Update 2022-06-11: is unbelievable. But it is even more unbelievable that this important solution to climate change and feeding the world has not been pursued. CSIRO was interested:, I hope they still are.

There was silly research that showed that phytoplanton take up carbon, but it all gets released when they die, so fertilization doesn't work. Of course many phytoplankton don't get to die of old age, and as their predators (and their predators, etc) defecate and later die, then a significant amount of carbon goes to the ocean floor. This video explains how some of that happens:

Friday, January 15, 2021

Democracy: The Threefold Way

Democracy: The Threefold Way

To make Democracy work as well as possible we need to get three things right:

  • The Head of State should be the umpire of politics, not a player;

  • The main (lower) house of parliament should have parties from the whole political spectrum, not two parties riven with internal divisions.

  • Misinformation and disinformation are poison to democratic decision making. The second (upper) house should have the job of responding to these with open enquiries and using its powers to identify the sources of disinformation campaigns.

Head of State

The Head of State needs to combine ceremonial roles with acting as the umpire of the political process. This is the way the Governor-General acts in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Having a Head of State with political power is a recipe for demagoguery which can easily tip over into dictatorship. Instead we want the political leader to be first among equals in a Cabinet drawn from and supported by the elected legislature which can change the leader quickly when necessary.

The failed attempt to make Australia a republic showed that the politicians were well aware that an elected President would be impossible to constrain to the ceremonial and umpiring roles of the Governor-General. However the voters were not interested in any other way of choosing a President. This proved to me that a monarchy is a valuable thing if a country has it. They do the ceremonial bit better, and they have the respect that an umpire needs. A remote monarch with a local representative has worked well in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

We can add some needed democracy to monarchy. When voters are at the polls it is a convenient moment to allow them to vote to remove people from the succession, or even to request a vote on the removal of the current monarch.

The Main House of Parliament

The main (Lower) House of Parliament should be the main source of power, both legislative and administrative. Separating the two leads to endless difficulty. Single seat electorates lead to the 2 party system we see in most places. Instead we need to get the extremists out of the main parties and let them be represented in Parliament by small parties that accurately reflect their views. This allows sane centre parties to govern, and allows the majority to directly and personally confront extremist views on the floor of Parliament.

The government is formed by the Umpire (Head of State) speaking privately to those elected and finding a Prime Minister most likely to be supported by the House. The Prime Minister builds a Cabinet of senior ministers, who are constrained to resign if they wish to publicly disagree with Cabinet decisions. The Head of State should not dismiss the government unless it receives a vote of no confidence in the House.

The House of Review

In a democracy the people are the government. Even though it seems they act rarely and only through representatives, in fact the politicians are constantly aware of the voters feelings and beliefs.

To act wisely the voters need, as far as possible, to be well and accurately informed. We admit that sometimes the people want to be misinformed, and it will be hard to prevent that. The Constitution should clearly state the importance of correcting misinformation and identifying and calling out people creating and spreading disinformation.

The second (Upper) House of Parliament should be specifically tasked with pursuing the truth in open enquiries. It should be independently funded to support teams of well qualified researchers to support investigations into the correct information relevant to public policy, and into the sources of deliberate disinformation. It should be able to hold up legislation which does not contain adequate or correct justification.


Compulsory voting impresses on people that voting is a duty, not some optional right. It has various advantages. It makes it hard to exclude groups through voter suppression. The processes that search for people who don't vote would also find people who vote more than once, if that were to ever become a problem. 

Preferential voting, also called "Single Transferable Vote", requires the voter to number the candidates in order. It isn't perfect and it is easy to prove that there is no perfect voting system. What it does do is allow people to vote for who they actually support without wasting their vote. The importance of this is consistently understated by those who think they are advantaged by first past the post voting.

I note my previous blog post on how to count votes in multicandidate elections with optional preferential voting: Gramp's Grumps: Counting votes in optional preferential.

There is also confusion in democracies because sometimes we vote for individuals and sometimes we feel we are voting for parties and feel betrayed when the winning candidate leaves the party but remains in Parliament. I have a post on addressing that: Gramp's Grumps: How to integrate political parties into the electoral process.

I have a proposal for a social media platform designed to resemble parliament in some ways. It's a bit nutty: Gramp's Grumps: AutoParliament

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

New ideas for Nuclear Power

 Sometimes things get missed. A couple have come up in reactor design recently.

1. To make a reactor work you have to transport the heat from where the reaction happens to where you want it to do work. Molten salt is a poor conductor of heat, so it used to be thought that it couldn't do the job. However because it is a liquid it can transport heat by convection instead of conduction. Moltex Energy noticed this, patented it, and have it as a core part of their plan to make energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

2. Helium has various properties that make it the gas of choice in High Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR) designs. Rod Adams has recently pointed out that isotope 15 of Nitrogen, N15, shares these properties, plus having additional benefits. In particular it is similar to air, so lots of expertise and equipment for dealing with air is applicable. It is also very abundant since it makes up 0.35% of the nitrogen in our atmosphere. Of course separating it out is not trivial, but it is commercially available, so it is being done.

These things should come in threes. Perhaps my contribution is too trivial to mention, but here it is:

3. Nuclear power plants like to operate continuously. They need to charge enough to cover the sunk cost of construction (or equivalently to cover the interest payments on the construction cost). But the marginal cost of operation is very low, and perhaps in truth negative given the costs involved in having the flexibility to reduce production. Moltex Energy is putting their money on energy storage to soak up excess energy when demand and price are low, and sell later when both are high. Meanwhile there are many things we could do with energy if it was cheap. Consider fresh water. It is seriously under-priced because we ignore the environmental impact of taking it from natural river systems and from underground aquifers. But those natural options are hitting their limits. Current desalination methods are expensive to build because the theory is "energy is expensive, so we build an expensive solution that makes efficient use of energy". And once you've built an expensive system you want to run it as much as possible. But actually, in a world where there is often excess energy with nowhere to go, this argument is wrong. What you want is a cheap solution that you only need to run when energy is more or less free. There are other industrial processes where the clever search for energy efficiency is misguided, and a cheap design is economically preferable.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Money and Economics

Money and Economics

Modern human culture arrived and swept all before it from 100,000 to 30,000 years ago.  It has a lot of features, including symbolic communication (also known as "language"). Developing at that time, was the symbolic representation of wealth: the right to access resources. This was an essential part of the major evolution of modern humans that allows us to live in large groups, instead of in the small groups where everyone knew everyone else.


Cowrie shells of a narrow range of sizes were one of the early forms of money. This is because it took a significant and fairly constant amount of effort to find them. This is the "proof of work" theory of money, which led to the invention of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Gold and silver mining came to dominate money creation, even though the amount of work involved is more variable, leading to inflation events such as when Spain received a lot of South American gold, or when the Emperor of Mali took the Hajj pilgrimage in 1324 (seriously).

From the beginning, money has tried to do two jobs that are not perfectly compatible: one is to act as a medium of exchange, and the other is to act as a store of value. We are psychologically confused about this, with a strong expectation that it should act as a store of value. A common error is to assume that when money fails to act as a store of value then that is because of government printed paper money, and that would not be a problem with a "proof of work" money system such as gold. The assumption is that the money should retain a value equal to the work that went into it, but that is false because the work happened in the past and can't be undone, and the value is set by current events, as I'll describe later.

Bitcoin is a perfect example of money as a medium of exchange. Its use is primarily this: the buyer first exchanges some of his local currency for bitcoin; then they use that bitcoin to buy on the internet; then the seller takes the received bitcoin and exchanges it for her local currency. This is certain to correctly reflect the exchange rate between the buyer's and seller's currencies, because if it didn't there would be money to be easily made by looping some money through the FX (foreign exchange) and bitcoin routes. For this use of bitcoin as a medium of exchange, it doesn't matter what the current value of bitcoin is, as long as it doesn't go up or down too fast. And indeed we've seen big swings in the price of bitcoin, but usage has continued. 

Another example of a medium of exchange that is never held for long is a paper currency that is experiencing significant inflation. In this case, as with bitcoin, the value of the currency is dictated by the amount of use it is getting. For bitcoin, where there is limited production, the value can go either way, but since it depends on decisions by many people, it is inherently unpredictable. However some people keep a significant bitcoin holding, as if it was a store of value, and the existence of these stores means there is always a risk that the market will be flooded by people trying to cash them in.


When the economy is functioning correctly, it continuously produces things of value at the highest possible rate, giving something close to full employment. The things of value that it produces are services. A car or a train provides transportation services. A house provides shelter and accommodation services. Owning a house provides a security of shelter service.

To produce services you need assets: houses, cars, people with skills and time, and much more. What services an economy can produce depends on what assets it has. What services an economy does produce depends on who has the economic power to decide. In a pure market economy that power is precisely money. In our society governments and banks have substantial additional power.

If value consists of services continuously produced, then what is a "store of value"? Non monetary stores of value are just assets that can be put to use producing services in the future (whether or not they are currently used): houses, machinery, stores of non-perishable raw materials, and much more. The relative value of these things changes, so the concept of a store of value is a fuzzy one. Can money be a store of value?

Gold acts as a form of money. It has industrial uses, but the amount of gold stored vastly exceeds any such requirements. Also the price of gold is artificially high because of all the storage. We have to deduce that gold only acts as a store of value because people expect that it will, and that expectation is no different from the previous expectation that cowrie shells would retain their value.

Suppose that, for some form of money, the value of the money (what it will buy) is steady or going up (deflation). Then people are inclined to save it for the proverbial rainy day. If the currency has limited production, such as gold or bitcoin, then the fact that money is being taken out of circulation means there is less money chasing the same amount of goods, so prices must fall. Which is the same as saying that the value of the currency is going up. This further increases the inclination of people to save because if you can defer a purchase you pay less. But the "rainy days" that people are saving for are not always uncorrelated. When a pandemic or a weather disaster comes along, then that money comes out chasing a supply of goods that can't quickly increase, causing instant inflation. We see that saving money is not the correct way for society as a whole to prepare for an emergency, and that money with limited supply can mislead people into thinking it is a store of value.

A real store of value must be linked to future production of services, because that is the real economy when you strip away the veneer of money. Later we'll consider how to do that.


Currencies should be optimized for the role of being a medium of exchange. And indeed that is what modern Reserve Banks try to do, and largely succeed.

Though the currency is a medium of exchange, still the participants in the economy want to keep a buffer of money. They don't want to have to liquidate an asset whenever they need to buy something. But as we've seen, it is unhelpful if there is any incentive for people to hold large quantities of the currency, because then the authorities lose control of this vital part of the economy. The Reserve Banks have found that 2 to 3 percent inflation is ideal. People can hold plenty of currency for exchange purposes without significant loss, but everyone has a big incentive to buy or invest to avoid their wealth melting away over the longer term. So the money keeps going around at a moderately constant rate.

If there is excessive inflation then the Reserve Bank can soak up money by borrowing money (selling bonds) which raises the interest rate. This actually presents itself as raising the interest rate. Presumably it is easier to work out how to counteract a particular amount of inflation by specifying a particular interest rate and borrowing enough to hit that target.

If inflation is too low, or there is deflation then the Reserve Bank can counter that by lowering the interest rate by buying bonds to put more money into circulation. There are minor and major problems with this. A minor problem is that there may not be enough bonds to buy back, which has been solved by buying other organizations' bonds. The major problem is that if money isn't circulating, which is what happens in recessions, then adding more doesn't help much and makes the situation less stable. I should admit that I don't understand the detail of how Reserve Banks function, but I think this is close enough.

Using interest rates to control the economy is fundamentally wrong since it has random effects on many people who need to live off a risk free investment. Currently interest rates are close to zero, forcing Reserve Banks to move to what they call quantitative easing. Buying non-bank bonds gives wealthy debtors free money, aggravating the rising inequality in our society.

For a stable economic system we want the interest on safe investment to be fairly steady. Historically it looks like inflation plus 3 percent might be the right number. This allows people to save for retirement expecting that they can expand their capital at the rate of inflation and also have income to live off. To achieve this we need an alternative to low interest rates to inject money into the economy.

I propose that there be a "tax on low inflation". When there is deflation or low inflation, the Reserve Bank will create money and pay it to the tax office. The legislation for this tax will require that it be spent almost immediately, and that any that cannot be so spent should be sent immediately to the general population, as the Australian Labor government did in the GFC. 

Another way the government can spend the low inflation tax is to buy something from another country, as long as the money can be spent immediately. How does that work? The government buying foreign currency lowers the country's exchange rate. That makes it easier for local industry to sell for export. It also causes immediate inflation by raising the price of imported goods.

While the tax on low inflation will be a big improvement in normal times, it does leave the situation where a lot of money is in private hands and can, in certain circumstances, flood the economy.

A Value Store Currency

We increasingly deal with money through computer software. That makes it easy for us to deal with multiple currencies. We have seen the difficulty of a single currency being both a medium of exchange and a store of value. It is natural to ask if we can separate out a 2nd currency that is a store of value. I have a proposal.

Value is services, provided by assets. A store of value consists of assets that will contribute to providing services at some future time. But such assets have variable lifespans, and they vary in their relative value over time. What we want for our value-storing currency is for it to represent a right to part of a collection of assets, that is maintained in a way that preserves its value. Explicitly:

We'll call our value-store currency "doubloons". People can interchange doubloons and dollars at any time at the current rate. The intention is that the exchange rate changes will be identical to inflation (for some reasonable definition thereof), so that the purchasing power of doubloons will be constant.

The government keeps non perishable assets whose value matches that of the outstanding doubloons. When people cash in their doubloons, so that there are then less outstanding, then the government sells some assets to keep the store level correct. When people buy more doubloons, then the government uses the dollars it gets to expand the store.

When the value of the assets held rises faster than inflation, then the government can sell some and pocket the money. However if the value doesn't rise fast enough then the government commits to expanding the store using tax money.

The government has an obligation to keep stores of things to prepare for an emergency. PPE (personal protective equipment) and oil have been in the news lately. It is intended that this value-store be used for this purpose, though the government has to make up any costs from storing perishable items that need to be constantly refreshed (such as food). When an emergency does strike then the government should replace the assets it then needs with others.

The store should not be an arbitrary collection of assets, but rather cover a wide range in the right proportion, so that the country can continue to operate during periods when it is cut off from suppliers for any reason.

Since there are costs associated with supporting this, it is envisaged that it will be for citizens and local organizations only. All they are allowed to do is convert the currency to or fro. It still makes sense to have loans and other financial operations denominated in doubloons, but when the time comes to do the actual financial transfer it is actually done in dollars calculated at the current rate.

Foreign Currency Exchange

We see the breathless news item "there is a current account deficit/surplus". What does that mean? When there was fixed exchange rates then a current account deficit meant that more people wanted to sell the local currency than there were people who wanted to buy it. So the government was forced to sell its foreign currency or gold holding to preserve the fixed rate, and this couldn't continue indefinitely. It was an urgent situation. Eventually the government would be forced to reduce the price of the local currency, changing to a new fixed exchange rate. Investors who guessed this would happen made a fortune.

Now that we have floating exchange rates, running a current account deficit is neither positive nor negative. It has a different meaning. A current account deficit means that more goods and services are coming into the country than are going out. And yet the currency has an equal number of buyers and sellers. How can that be?

The answer is that the extra buyers of the local currency are buying things in the country which they then don't take out of the country. This might be real estate, or equity in a business or it might be a loan. So one way to look at it is that a current account deficit represents foreigners investing in the country. Another way is to say that there is net borrowing from overseas. There is no way to distinguish between these.

On the other side, a current account surplus sounds like a great thing, but it might just mean that foreigners are disinvesting in the country.

When countries share a currency, such as the European Euro, then that is taking fixed exchange rates to extremes, since countries don't have the option to modify their rate. This was a big problem in the Eurozone, with poorer countries teetering on bankruptcy. This is potentially a problem in federal countries like the USA and Australia, which have states with substantial economic independence. In those countries the solution is for the central government to arrange wealth transfer from richer to poorer states. It seems that the Eurozone has now recognised the need to do this, with the European Central Bank buying government bonds of the poorer states at low interest rates.

Reality versus Finance

When I was a kid in the mid-1950s, the milkman delivered milk to our door. With cream on top, but I digress. He just had to run between the vehicle and the doorsteps because the vehicle advanced by itself using natural intelligence. Yes it was horse drawn. Sixty five years later and artificial intelligence hasn't caught up. But by the 50s horses were already rare.

What caused the Great Depression of the 1930s? In our assets plus services economic model, what happens if you suddenly lose a lot of assets? Obviously the total ability of society to produce services is reduced. It is the job of government and the finance sector to figure out what to do about that to produce services at the rate needed for full employment.

The 1920s and 30s was a period of transition. People were moving from the country to the city. In the country they had tremendous skills for dealing with horses and other animals. Even in the city horse skills were very valuable. The move to mechanization threw those skills in the bin. At a moment in time when there was a tremendous need for new skills, the market was flooded with labour that was unskilled in the new context.

Governments could have handled this better. Yes it would have been good to get the unemployed people to work building infrastructure such as roads. Pouring money into the economy and blowing some huge asset bubbles would have helped, and that's what we would do today. But really the right answer was to identify the training needs and make that happen.

That would have been hard then, but maybe we can leverage the Internet to do it now. Which brings us to the next section.

Pandemic Economics

In the pandemic there are many services, recreational and optional, that are much less used. But there is also less employment so it balances out. Except that the unemployment is not evenly distributed. So the government is paying the unemployed in various ways. This maintains the consumption of essential services like food, so that essential services are not also reduced by lack of demand, as happened tragically in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

If we think about services, the first question is what extra services could be provided while restrictions are in place. Most of the people who are underemployed have skills that are not currently useful. So extra work would have to be relatively unskilled, and shovel-ready. This is hard, though it does seem that in Australia some unemployed people could be employed doing fuel reduction to reduce the impact of bushfires.

We can also try to prepare by considering what services will be wanted when the pandemic is under control. A lot of people will want a holiday, including people who usually go overseas but will now stay closer to home. A lot of people will be keen to save, having blown their savings, or because they are behind on their mortgage. This will create unemployment unless the government steps in with community wide services. There is plenty that needs to be done.

Most of all we need to give unemployed people the ability and incentive to learn new skills.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Virus Problem

 The Virus Problem

I'm not a doctor or a biology expert. This is just based on my concept of common sense. For the purposes of this article, I will use "bacteria" to mean living things that don't try to get into cells, though there are others; and I will use "virus" for things that need to get into cells, though this also includes intracellular parasites such as malaria and toxoplama.

For bacteria the immune system has a problem because there are good and bad bacteria, and the body has to distinguish. However the good are only in special places like the skin and gut, and mostly when they are in the wrong place the answer is to attack and kill and that works well most of the time for most people.

Viruses get into cells, and that is much harder for the body to deal with. The body has a complicated system for dealing with viruses before they get into cells and that is great except that a lot can happen while it's getting its act together.

The problem is: what to do about infected cells. In the early stages the answer is to kill the cells and hope to make up for the damage later. But when too many cells are infected then that can be a bad plan, because losing too many of an important type of cell can kill you. Plan B is for the cell to shut the virus down as much as possible, and for the immune system to tone down the cell destruction to a manageable level. Viruses that are well adapted to humans seem to know to tone down their attack to not kill their host, since that is a bad career move for them.

Humans form a vast monoculture across the planet. Monocultures are extremely prone to disease. We are lucky to have the SARS-CoV2 virus as a wake-up call. We need to wake up and decide to attack all viruses, planet-wide. This means:
  • Testing, particularly of people travelling. We are mostly looking for anything new, or known to be virulent. E.g. temperature checks are an easy test, and everyone with a temperature can be followed up. Sereological testing for antibodies is good, if it can be done easily, perhaps with a finger prick.
  • Reporting. Let's get a continuous global view of the health of our monoculture.
  • That will let us isolate and attack areas of infection.
  • Aim high. We want the total elimination of viruses and other intracellular parasites.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

An Internet Education Infrastructure

 An Internet Education Infrastructure

Australia has proved a popular destination for tertiary students to get University degrees. This has been good for the economy, but is not going to come back soon, and it may never come back. And yet what are people going to do during the coming period of high unemployment? Many will choose to improve their education. 

Meanwhile the Internet has developed into an important adjunct to education. Explicitly:

Youtube (and other video and podcasting and blogging services) provide a lot of brilliant educational material. Unfortunately they also provide an equal or greater amount of well presented false information. For educational purposes there is an urgent need for curation, and to free the material from providers who are subject to so much legal and commercial pressure from various bad actors.

Wikipedia (and other attempts to organize knowledge, such as nLab and kerodon), are a wonderful resource, but they are not oriented to education. For example if you want to understand a particular entry, it will have links to things that you also need to understand, but if you go to those links they are just as complex with just as many links, and not restricted to the level of understanding you need. For educational purposes subjects have prerequisites, and when we have links to material from the prerequisites then we want the exposition to be at the level of that prerequisite. Then, when you go down these rabbit holes, you must come to an end. That is because subjects and prerequisite subjects are organised in a tree structure, and things get simpler as you go down, and there is a limit to how simple you can get. Educational web pages might also have links to other parts of the same course but they will naturally be clearly marked as such.

Let's suppose we do the work, so that we have a wonderful curated collection of educational material, and we have a tree structured curriculum containing links to recommended educational material that covers the course. There are two more things we need for a working education system, which are, in reverse order:

  • Evaluating, in a secure way, that students have acquired the knowledge and skills taught by the course, and providing widely accepted certification of that.

  • Practising the demonstration of the acquired knowledge and skills and receiving feedback and help. 

There are extra problems when the skills to be demonstrated involve real-world interactions, and not just screens. Students will then be limited to particular places even for practice. There will already be a requirement for students to get to particular places for secure evaluation.

Every part of this looks doable. We will assume that we have a collaboration of government and semi-government organizations (such as universities). All the people involved are identified, not anonymous. Identification is naturally from authorization by one of the participating organizations.

Curation of Educational Resources

Some of the people in some of the organizations will be authorized to do curation. This will include all the people preparing courses and curriculums. Where copyright permits the items should be moved to a secure repository. Otherwise a cryptographic hash of the item should be taken so that it can't be changed while staying at the same URL.

The person adding an item indicates why. The main reason will be because it honestly presents the views of a significant number of experts in the field, preferably all of them. Another reason might be that it has historical interest of some sort. The educational level and clarity of presentation would also be assessed.

Curriculum and Course Construction

A curriculum describes the knowledge and skills for a particular subject area at a particular level, and how these should be assessed. It should come with something like a wikipedia entry, except that the links should always point to information in the prerequisites, or perhaps to information from earlier in that same course. This collection of web pages should actually be a very terse course for the curriculum.

A course for a curriculum is a set of curated resources that cover the curriculum, plus example assessments with examples of the successful completion of those assessments.


It is envisaged that assessment will be separated from instruction. Instruction can be provided by independent training services. However institutions going to the trouble to produce curriculums and courses, will often be running the course for some students, and providing at least enough assessment for those students. 

Assessment should be secure. Students need to be biometrically identified and the circumstances need to prevent cheating. For example screen based testing should use the assessors screens and should be done in a faraday cage to prevent communication with the outside world.


Separating training from assessment has been quite common. For this to work the curriculum and assessment have to be well defined. The payoff is innovation and flexibility in training. If people already know the subject then they only need to make sure they use the same terminology and notation to get certification.


A dynamic educational environment can raise productivity, and also make the world a lot safer for democracy when voters need to resist an avalanche of misinformation.

Monday, August 3, 2020

A Nuclear Future for Australia

An Open Letter to CSIRO

The world is on the brink of momentous change. At the same time, the Australian government needs to give the voters a positive message about the future. It is natural for CSIRO to lead at this time.

Nuclear power is going to deliver the cheap, carbon-free high intensity energy that will shape the 21st century. We don't know which SMR (small modular reactor) technology will win, but it is clear that several are close to deployment and there is enormous scope for technological progress. Morrison explicitly said they were not ruling out nuclear. With Indonesia, and many other neighboring countries, going nuclear, there is little doubt we will follow. Leading environmentalists believe it is an essential technology to combat climate change while maintaining and increasing our standard of living.

When I was at CSIRO the public was very anti-nuclear, and we were pleased to escape being united with ANSTO. That is now rapidly changing, and CSIRO will be left behind if it doesn't endorse and support nuclear energy. Deploying and taking full advantage of nuclear power is a multidisciplinary job, so union with ANSTO is now a good step.

The public is ready to hear about the need for disaster preparation. A recurring world-wide disaster is a large volcano erupting, sometimes for years, and significantly reducing sunlight, leading to agriculture failures. This happens every few hundred years on average, the most recent being Mount Tambora in 1815. This is, incidentally, an argument for nuclear power compared to solar. More significantly it is an argument for vertical farming using artificial light, which cheap nuclear power will make affordable. Vertical farming eliminates the need for chemicals, such as insecticides, which have damaged the natural environment. It can benefit from optimal levels of CO2 and just the light frequencies the plants use. Vertical farming is usually shown going up, but it can as easily go down out of sight. Allowing cities to be self-sufficient in basic food production and water purification will strengthen their ability to cope with many sorts of disaster.

Small reactors are also a natural way to power large ships, giving fast, quiet, cheap, and carbon-free shipping. This has the potential to connect Australia to the world, so that we are less reliant on trade with nearby economies such as China. I don't know whether it is practicable for Australia to be involved in manufacturing on that scale, but cheap power plus robot technology seems to open up the possibility.

A look at the map shows that Australia is lacking cities in its North-West. For a truly ambitious project we should build a city there that sits lightly on the land, producing its own water and most of its food, safely destroying its waste and producing no air pollution. I like to think the Aboriginal people will be supportive of this, because it is the blueprint for a world where we can return significant amounts of land to their care.

Further in the future, but clearly in view, is the advance in space technology. While most are thinking about the Moon and Mars, the smart money is on asteroids beyond the frost line, and avoiding deep gravity wells. While this is further in the future, there is an obvious connection to perfecting vertical farming and water purification using nuclear energy

It is in times like these that governments and voters are primed to accept a significant change in direction. Seize the moment.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Australia: Black Lands Matter

Australia needs to get its own house in order before commenting on racism in America. It is a bit too easy to say "Black Lives Matter", but then not give up anything. But I think recent developments in our understanding of history clearly point to what should be given up.

What we now fully understand is that Aboriginal people, across the whole country, managed the landscape for safety and for productivity. This was effectively farming, and contradicts the view that they were  merely subsisting off land left in its natural state.

After the demise of the megafauna, the Aboriginal people stepped into the breach. The megafauna used to munch and muscle their way through the forests, stopping the understorey building up dangerously. The Aboriginal people developed a system of low level continuous burning to do that job. They also became the top predator, so that kangeroos and other herbivores didn't overgraze.

European settlers and their diseases massively reduced the Aboriginal population. The Sydney area was open woodland when Cook and then settlers arrived. Later, explorers travelling over land saw smoke from fires in all directions. But very soon the dense forests that we are familiar with had taken over, and we new arrivals thought that was the natural state. In fact it had never existed before. Worse still, the Aboriginal practice of burning, though necessary, had had the effect that fire tolerant and fire dependent species were now much more common. We were all setup for the bushfire disasters that have plagued us ever since.

The problems are related and I will propose a solution to both. It needs to be said that the Aboriginal people are not a single legal entity, so we can't just give the forests back to them. Indeed it would not be wise to go that far, because the National Parks are now something that all Australians, and the ancestors who were the ancient owners, would want to keep close to a natural condition.
  • The plan would be gradually expanded. Initially it would cover land where bushfires are likely and dangerous.
  • Those Aboriginal people wishing to actively participate would become the beneficial owners able to: sell hunting licenses, charge for entry or camping, sell natural produce such as kangeroo meat.
  • The Aboriginal people would work with government scientists to plan for returning the forests to a more natural and safer and more productive state.
    • This includes the removal, or at least reduction, of non-native species of plants and animals.
    • Keeping the forest thinned out and with low level vegetation reduced. Cultural burning should be part of this, but sequestering carbon would be better if possible.
  • Those doing the work in the Parks would be paid, proportionately to their involvement. Those with more involvement will also receive more of the benefits.
Training will obviously be an important activity. We want Aboriginal people to be well off, well educated, and honouring their ancestors by caring for the land. Then we will be well placed to advise other countries on race relations. Reducing the bushfires will also be nice.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Counting votes in optional preferential

The Australian Senate has optional preferential voting. That means voters can number some candidates (or parties), but not number all of them. As I understand it counting goes like this, assuming you have 6 spots to fill:
  • Divide the number of valid votes 7 (number of winners + 1), rounding down, then add 1 for luck. This is the quota. You need a quota of votes to win a seat.
  • Count votes till someone has a quota. Now only 5 more to go. The rest of the winner's votes (their excess) continues in the count going to lower preferences. Except that doing it that way would be non-reproducible, so actually all the winner's votes continue, but only counting as an appropriate fraction.
  • Except that some votes are now exhausted because they didn't vote below that winner. Now the quota needs to be lowered appropriately, otherwise you might not get enough winners.
  • And so on till you have your 6 winners.
Do they actually reduce the quota? I left a question on Antony Green's web site but didn't get an answer.
To only reduce the quota for subsequent candidates is unfair. The people who vote for the most popular candidates get votes that count less. But going back and changing the quota for previously confirmed candidates could change the count. Maybe they push on with the original quota, hoping they'll get 6 people elected. But that is bad even if it works.
The correct answer is to set the quota to the smallest quota which will elect 6 candidates. So that if you reduce the quota by even one it will lead to 7 candidates getting a quota. The point is that you want to discard the largest number of votes, because that is where the loony single issue supporters are lurking. This is what easily happens when only one person is being elected: almost half the votes can be discarded.
With this counting method, I now think optional preferential Senate voting is ok, minimizing the chances of extremist parties.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

comments on "Planet of the Humans"

The new movie from the Michael Moore stable, "Planet of the Humans", is available free on youtube: Everybody should see it.

As we have recently learned from SARS-CoV2, exponential growth is brutal. Also, if something can't go on then it must stop. These things apply to people as well as virus pandemics. That is the basic message of the film.

The movie proposes we solve the problem now with population reduction and much lower consumption. That isn't going to happen. There is an alternative which is two fold:

(a) Take on board the fact that human population exponential growth must stop and build up the social structures that will make that possible. Basically bringing a new person into the world is a deal between the world and the parents, and that needs to be explicit (and fair).

(b) Give ourselves time to get to that point by adopting the one energy source that the rest of nature has no use for: Nuclear Power.

If the movie doesn't kick start a pro Nuclear Green movement than I'll be very disappointed.

A final comment on the movie is this. It is a collection of emotional anecdotes. Anecdotes are a weak form of evidence. The role of anecdotal evidence is to tell you what needs to be seriously and openly investigated. If we've learnt anything from the pandemic, it is the importance of getting the experts involved in a clear and open way, while understanding that they don't always agree, and that they can change their mind.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bushfire prevention: Mechanical Megafauna

Bushfire prevention: Mechanical Megafauna

The megafauna in Australia and America used to munch up the smaller vegetation and defecate fertilizer for the trees. However when humans arrived at those places the megafauna assessed these new small mammals as harmless. Bad mistake. Compare this to Africa where the megafauna evolved alongside humans and they well know to be scared of us and attack us if necessary.

When the megafauna disappeared, the Aboriginal people in Australia discovered the need for controlled burning to maintain the open woodland that was safe from extreme bush fires. This was done on a continuous small scale basis. When European explorers first travelled through the outback they saw smoke from these fires all around.

Left wing governments in Australia and in California have been accused of skimping on controlled burning, contributing to the subsequent disasters. Who can blame governments for disliking controlled burning? It kills wildlife. It is done on windless days but that leads to an unhealthy build up of smoke, affecting local residents. And sometimes the wind picks up and the fire escapes to threaten life and property. And it puts CO₂ into the atmosphere, which seems like a bad idea. The regrowth probably cancels that, but it isn't completely obvious.

I favour attempting to bring back the megafauna, but that is a 100 year project. California and Australia are high tech places, so maybe we can do a high tech solution. I propose the Mechanical Megafauna which will do a better job than controlled burning, and sequester CO₂ as well. The following sci-fi description is one of many ways it might be done.
The giant airship-drone lifted the MechMeg base station from its location and lowered it down carefully between the trees to its next spot. The ground had been mapped with vegetation-penetrating radar. Drones had identified the vegetation at the next stop. 
Everything happened fast after the base station set down. Boston Dynamics robots came quickly out of the base station, cutting down plants and dragging them to the base. Other robots followed to rake up leaf litter and other small stuff. 
The base station processed these by chopping them finely and heating them in a furnace to a very high temperature in a near vacuum. This left a residue that was mostly carbon. It also created a gas with hydrogen and methane which was burnt as part of the energy needed to run the furnace and power the base.
Refueling drones arrived regularly to provide extra hydrogen for the base station and to take away the residual carbon to be sequestered earning carbon credits.
How practical is this? I don't know, but California is very rich.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Maths for better Batting

If we look at the bowler's delivery, then at any time the ball is at a specific point and travelling in a specific direction in 3D space. Let's imagine an arrow in space starting at the position of the ball and going in the direction of the ball at that point in time. (This is called a tangent vector of our moving point).

Now imagine the bat moving through space. We'll start by considering the line in the middle of the bat. At any moment in time our bat gives us a line in space, and the motion of the bat defines it's direction. There's a bit of subtlety here, but for our purposes we can pick out a flat plane that the bat is moving in at a particular moment (a tangent plane). When we add the width of the bat, then we get a thickened plane that the bat is moving in.

Now consider the moment when the ball meets the bat. If the ball's arrow is moving across that thickened plane from one side to the other, then any error by the batsmen will result in a miss or an edge. If, at the other extreme, the arrow for the ball is wholly within the plane then an error by the batsman will just mean that the ball hits higher or lower on the bat.

Consider, for example, the sweep shot where the batter uses a horizontal bat to hit the ball close to where it pitches so he doesn't have to worry about the spin. Looks great when it works, but it fails catastrophically. The alternative is to play with an angled bat pointing to the point where the ball pitches, and with the angle of the bat being the angle that the ball bounces up. Now the ball is staying in the bat's thickened plane and though it looks awkward it has a much higher margin for error.

This is harder with leg spin with the ball moving away. Then you have to angle the bat with the handle more away from you than the blade. But if you get the bat handle in front and the blade behind and back cut, then suddenly all is good. Indeed when the batter gets in a muddle, and is forced to back cut the ball to stop it hitting the stumps, they often find that surprisingly easy. It would be exciting to see a batsmen practice this and then do it deliberately and repeatedly.

When the ball is spinning (or swinging) in, then this theory recommends hitting into the spin with a straight bat. I think that is best for defensive shots. Alternatively if attacking then an angled bat hitting to the leg side is your best chance to hit the ball with the balls tangent vector within the bat's thickened plan. This is the slog that even weaker players often succeed with. Not just luck after all.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Safer red ball cricket

We see that pitches for red ball cricket (3, 4 or 5 days) are prepared that are quite dangerous, to increase the chance of a result. I have an alternative solution.

Wickets fall at a very random rate. Runs are scored at a more even rate. So, instead of having a target of more runs in 20 wickets, the plan is to a target of least wickets to fall to score a set number of runs. You can have as many innings as needed to get those runs.

For example suppose the target for a test match is 500 runs. Then the two teams alternate innings (an innings always counts as 10 wickets) till one team has 500 or more runs. If it is the team batting 2nd then they win because the other team has already lost more wickets. If it is the team batting first that first exceeds 500 runs, then the team batting 2nd knows how many wickets they can afford to lose before they get to 500 to win. Ties will be more common, so maybe have a tie-breaker system, but I don't have a problem with ties.

One nice thing about this scheme is that you can play the game to a finish, however long that takes with rain, without the dangers of matches going for a long time, as used to happen before WWII. Let's have more ties and no draws.

The main objective is that pitches be prepared that don't have the ball rising sharply from just short of a length.

This can be combined with another idea I like: Let the captains make a bid (in runs) for the right to decide who bats first. The side losing the auction starts their innings with the runs they bid.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nuclear for Coal to Oil in Australia

Nuclear for Coal to Oil in Australia

Australia lacks oil reserves, and this is a security issue. A solution is the conversion of coal to oil. The carbon atoms in that oil do not lead to extra CO2 emissions. Oil from elsewhere would otherwise be used.

However the process of converting the coal to oil requires a lot of process heat, which is traditionally provided by burning half of the coal. However to do that would inevitably breach Australia's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The alternative is to use nuclear power. The conversion process is cheaper and more efficient if done at very high temperatures, over 900 degrees C. It turns out that there are modern passively safe reactor designs which provide that level of industrial process heat.

Doing this will be politically very favourable for the current government:

  • Every voter can understand the need for secure access to oil for transport fuels.
  • Many on the Left now understand the need for nuclear power to reduce CO2 emissions, so the introduction of nuclear power will wedge the opposition.
  • Indonesia is making tentative steps towards nuclear power, and many Australians will think that is a good reason for us to do the same.

There are various options to site nuclear power far from most voters. Perhaps the Bunda Cliffs on the southern edge of the Nullabor, which is close to water, but high above a low risk coastline.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Boom, Bust and DNA

Imagine it is boom time for a group of humans. There's lots of food, and time for recreational and romantic activities. What behaviour will favour our genes?

There's no reason to worry about competition from strangers. And strangers are attractive. We plan to have 10 children and 100 grandchildren. If we mix in some slightly different genes then we might produce some offspring that combine good genes of ours with their good genes and make individuals with an advantage. So we're tolerant of strangers, and looking to have offspring with more than one partner.

Now imagine things are bad. Life is a struggle. The population is falling. What behaviour favours our genes now?

People that are like us share more of our genes. People who are different probably don't. And they're competing with us for the limited resources. Maybe we should cooperate with similar people and make sure we get our share relative to those who are different. And note that deaths from fighting are less of a loss to our DNA because deaths are common and it at least leaves more resources for other copies of our DNA. We now hope to have 2 children and 4 grandchildren, or maybe less. And it makes sense to marry our 2nd cousin, or even our 1st cousin.