- Secret menus at restaurants still list cotsium products. Just because you have to ask to have your burger made with a veggie patty instead of beef doesn't mean you aren't buying the burger retail. The vendor might refer to your request as a special order, but they are just trying to make you feel better and return next time you want to had over cash to them.
- If you are buying a service from a small business owner and that owner pauses before quoting a price to you, it is possible you stepped over the line and are no longer buying cotsium stuff. The key to knowing is to figure out if the business owner knows how to price the service they provide to you. It is easy to mistake their pause for this, but be aware that they may simply be thinking about how to shake as much money out of you as possible.
- If your kid asks for help on their homework or science fair project, they are asking for a special order from you. How you price it is up to you, but don't imagine for a moment that they won't remember the trade later when they want another special order and have something to compare.
- If you want some warm, fuzzy art you can buy a Kincaid print. It is cotsium. If you want a flattering portrait of your wife to make up for something senseless you said the other day, that is specialorderum and you'll pay dearly whether you get the painting or not. Your choice is how you pay.
- A shipload of spices brought back by the Dutch to 17th century European markets was notyetium until it arrived in port. A shipload of gold taken by the Spanish from the New World at about the same time was notyetium until the ship arrived safely in port without getting raided by the Dutch or English. A CPU with double the transistor density compared to the one in your cutting edge computer is notyetium. Moore's Law tells us roughly when it will become cotsium or specialorderum depending on just how fancy your system is.
- If you think you can build a new, improved device and have experience building others like them, it is possible your new device is notyetium. If you have little experience, though, it probably isn't. If your device involves extracting free energy from the universe, for example, the odds are pretty high it isn't notyetium even if you think it is. If you want to buy Yeti fingernail clippings, though, I'm sure someone somewhere will figure out how to get them for you. Gullibility is definitely cotsium.
- If you plan to put together a new website to provide social media services, you might be motivated by a dream to do it, but your product isn't unobtanium. We know most of the magic necessary to make a website work. You might argue that we don't know the magic that makes such a site successful, but I'll argue that it isn't magic at all. You just have to do the most difficult thing imaginable. You have to serve a useful function to others AND get them to notice you AND do it all for a price they find palatable. Good luck with that. Do it right and you'll be rich. Do it wrong and you'll be like everyone else because you'll wind up using the product your competitor made better than you did.
- If you plan to take tourists to the surface of the Moon and back at a profit, you might be motivated by a grand vision of humanity expanding into space. Unless you know most of the technical details involved in such an effort, though, you need unobtanium before you'll make a profit. If your investors have a lick of sense, they will know that too. Good luck with that. Do it right and you'll have FAR more than a service for tourists. Your investors will know that too and will probably focus their questions on everything else besides your vision of tourists on the Moon. You might think you are in the space tourism business, but you are really in the R&D business.
- Prior to the time the Chinese discovered the recipe for gunpowder there were many known incendiary and burning devices. Try to imagine those early days and the research done to find the recipe. It is thought the person who funded the work was after immortality and his alchemists tripped across a different kind of incantation. Mix the right ratio of sulfur, salt peter, and charcoal and you get an explosive. How magical is that, hmm? To the alchemists, gunpowder was unobtanium because they could believe the magic was possible and had no reason to believe otherwise. It turns out they were correct. Immortality through alchemy, though, appears to be fantasticum.
- Known science gets revised now and then. Because of this the border between unobtanium and fantasticum moves too. What we think we know to be impossible is difficult to nail down, but ask any scientist when they have had one beer too many and aren't overly worried about being precise and they will tell you. Most of them will agree on most of it too. Being tipsy only stops them from offering up their usual self-skepticism. If they still say they don't know something after two beers too many, maybe they really don't. To the less educated person, though, the border can be wished to be just beyond where they are now. No beers are necessary for that. If your work is like that, enjoy your romantic vision, but I'll go find some other project in which to invest my money.
What I want to put down here, though, are some thoughts about perceptual blindness. This is the kind of blindness where a person can be looking right at a thing and not see it because they don't expect it to be there or even exist. Imagine yourself in ancient times when people thought the Sun went around the Earth. The evidence we currently accept for the notion that the Earth goes around the Sun instead was right before their eyes, but because they already believed otherwise, they could see the sunrise and sunset as evidence the Sun went around us instead. The models we have in our minds that explain reality ARE how we perceive reality. Literally. If upon observing a sunrise and sunset the thoughts evoked in my mind are of geocentric astronomy, then I perceive the Sun going around us. If they evoke heliocentric astronomy, I see the Earth rotating in my mind and my view of the sky shifting as I move with it. The models we make in our heads and teach to our kids have more to do with our truths than our sensory data does.
Perceptual blindness and other related issues have been studied in terms of optical and auditory illusions for some time. There is quite a pile of evidence now pointing to the fact that we must also have senses that point inward at the models we construct as we learn about the world in order to know when the external sensory data triggers one or more of the models. My experience in this area has less to do with illusions, though, and more to do with alternate narrative explanations. Ponder this scenario.
Late at night I wake up to the realization that I left my computer monitor on in my office. It has gone black, but not powered off so there is a mild glow coming from the room that I usually find annoying when trying to sleep. I get up to shut it off, but I don't want to turn on any lights and feel the pain of the glare and loss of my dark adapted vision. I pad into my office using the low glare from my monitor as lighting. When I'm almost there and about to reach over to push the power button, I step on something that is wet. The entire path to my desk is carpeted where I live and the first thing I conclude is that the dog has pissed on the carpet in front of my desk again as a way to retaliate. That thought arrives in a flash along with the anger and disgust when I realize the carpet might not JUST be wet. The question is, can I reasonably conclude that the dog did that? Can I conclude the dog did more? Should I consider alternative options before getting angry?
Anyone who has found themselves in a similar situation knows that rational thought never gets even the slightest chance to intervene. There simply isn't enough time. The wet feeling between my toes matches a previous experience where I do know for a fact that the dog peed on my part of the carpet. I've learned to close my office door to prevent that option and the dog goes elsewhere when his tiny little bladder isn't large enough to make it through the night. He is a chihuahua too, so I really shouldn't blame him for having such a tiny bladder, right? He is what he is and could very well be trying to find the most out of the way place to do the deed. My office certainly qualifies since the door is rarely open for him anymore and when I'm at my desk he is a bit too scared to come in. None of that matters though when I match in a flash the narrative that the dog is retaliating for my pressing my will on him when it comes to establishing dominance in this house or during walks and all that. I don't even know if that makes any sense in the dog psychology way, but I don't think about any of that in the brief flash before anger and disgust.
What I find interesting about this is that in political communities I always advocate for a calmer interpretation of events. I always push for an exploration of alternative narratives even if they contradict ones I like and prefer. I'm not perfect in this as I am a little less inclined to explore alternatives to interpretations I like. I suspect most people do that, so I don't feel guilty about it. I learned to think this way after getting my lip busted in high school. I thought I knew what was going through the other kid's head and failed miserably to anticipate his level of anger. The truth was obviously a closer match to an alternative narrative I had not considered. Over the years I realized it was an alternative I didn't WANT to consider and in self-defense I learned to squash that anti-want.
Let me bring this story back to the present, though. I was watching a presentation the other night by an author with a strong libertarian view of life. He said a number of things I found to be agreeable and a few that I thought were quite bizarre. He spoke of life under the thumb of our government and while I recognize the risk of such a future, I obviously don't see things as he does. What I got to wondering is whether it was him or me that was perceiving the world in terms of a geocentric astronomy. He tried to articulate some of the threat he saw, but didn't get far because the other libertarians just nodded with him making it rather clear he didn't have to explain it to them. I let it go for further study later as I didn't want to interrupt his talk. It was an odd experience for me.
In the forum I frequent, though, it is often the case that the shoe is on the other foot. I wind up seeing potential threats to liberty where others do not. I'm not quite the lone nut case preaching doom and the end of the world. There are a couple of others who are close enough that they nod occasionally, but again I wonder who is the fan of geocentric astronomy. It is still fun to debate with all of them. I get a chance to have my ideas beaten up and completely thrashed instead of suffering that pain upon my body directly. I like to think my ideas have improved as a result. I've had to face some of my own mental dissonance that only another person can point out and it has been useful to me.
What I find most interesting about these related lessons, though, is that I know I can be perceptually blind. I know I can flash to a narrative explanation for events whether it involves dogs in my office or politicians taxing me and establishing competing services to what I would like to do. I know other people can point out my error if they do not use precisely the same perceptual model I use. I also know I can return the favor when they are in error. The problem, though, is that I know I am occasionally correct and the other person wrong when they believe the opposite. Both of us can be perceptually blind, thus there is no formal way to decide who has the most truthful narrative. Even a vote taken among a large group of people noodling over the same problem and evidence isn't enough to formally decide. I don't think there IS a way to know absent a metaphysical observer with omniscience. Even then that wouldn't work since my perceptual model of the universe has no room for such an entity. I simply wouldn't believe them, thus I wouldn't see the truth they offered.
Ultimately, I think this is why I have to defend liberty. If we can't decide who is right and can't agree on what to do, we have to tolerate each of us doing as they wish and letting time prove us right or wrong. Time might not oblige us with a proof, but when it does it is usually pretty obvious. If someone tells me it is perfectly fine to talk on their cell phone and drive at the same time, I know as a last resort I can just wait and watch. My perceptual model of the risks says they won't have time to think about the danger they will eventually face some day in a complex encounter on the road. Eventually the paramedics will be called to scrape them off the highway along with other innocents who unintentionally helped prove what a stupid idea that was. Ultimately we prove our truths with our lives, but not everyone can see that truth either.
This problem certainly has my attention at the moment. My son is autistic and I might be responsible for him for the rest of my life. That seems very likely right now. My parents are now old enough that they need a bit of help now and then to keep the house up and other tasks. The situation with my wife's parents isn't much different. I don't expect there to be a firm answer to the problem that applies across them all. I've chosen to do what everyone else appears to be doing in similar situations. I play it by ear not expecting formal structure. If we get to the end of the day with tempers reasonably cool and calm, I solved the problems well enough.
One thing is obvious, though. The level of planning and interference expected of me for my son is very different from what is expected for my mother-in-law. I have no doubt she wouldn't tolerate me treating her as I treat my son. Beside the fact that she doesn't need that level of help, she doesn't want it either. Yet I do plan part of her life when I make career and financial choices. She can try to opt out if she doesn't like a particular choice I make, but her options are limited and I know that. In a strict sense, she isn't as free as my own mother because my decisions don't impact my mother the same way yet. In a purely existential sense, my mother-in-law is just as free as my mother because both choose, but one is more impacted by my choices and there are moral limits on me related to respecting each of them.
What I find most captivating about this problem, though, is the political extension of it. Another thing that is quite obvious to me is that some people extend their definition of family to the larger community with the implied parental duty that we should care for and assist those who need it. This is especially true of children and the oldest among us, but it is often extended to the unfortunate. I understand the moral requirement to help where I can. All I need do is look into my own heart and the requirement is there. This is not surprising as I am a decedent of countless generations of parents who planned/meddled where they could to serve the prosperity of their children. Whether one feeds and shelters orphans or horsewhips the slothful until they work hard enough to fend for themselves and their kids, one is choosing to apply ones own knowledge to the problems of another person who might have different and useful knowledge too.
One of the defining characteristics of a Progressive is the broad boundary they apply to their meaning of family. It is far broader that a Classical Liberal (European sense) is ever likely to tolerate, yet the liberal can usually admit that some interference (possibly coercion) is required of them if they wish to be considered human by a progressive. In this sense a human is a person who behaves as a human and has nothing to do with genetics and parentage. Human-ness is a collection of behavior potentials.
There is good reason to believe that extending the boundary as far as the progressives often do cannot work in the practical sense. F.A. Hayek explained this concisely in his essay on the limits we face in the use of knowledge. We simply can't do what the most radical progressive wishes of us anymore than we can make the ratio of a circle's circumference and diameter equal three. There is a theoretical limit that has nothing to do with ideology. The problem, though, is that we are ALL descendents of countless generations of parents who planned and meddled in the affairs of others for their children's benefit. How does one fight a truth many of us believe in our hearts and still retain our humanity in their eyes?
I haven't gone through the effort of categorizing all the skeptical arguments like the work done at Skeptical Science. There is no need for duplication and they do a fine job. What I have been working at is grouping the arguments into broad families and looking at how they approach the scholarly divisions between climate science, economics, and politics. I'm beginning to understand that some people object to the political consequences of a remedial policy and fight against any of the supporting arguments for the policy. That means a political objection could turn into a science skepticism even though there is no other connection between them than the fact that a science projection is used to advocate the policy.
I'm doing this because of a discussion I've had with friends that the science is in decent shape and offers good support for the conclusion that humanity is responsible for the most recent warming of the Earth. There is enough good science done to conclude that the correlation between recent human economic output and recent warming is actually a causation. This discussion has led to descriptions of what science actually is (Popper, Kuhn, etc) as distinguished from the dogma that is taught by most teachers who focus upon what science has learned. That finally led me to read F. A. Hayek and see the political distinctions he and others draw between classical liberalism, modern liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism (in a number of forms) and so on. The last 18 months or so has been a journey for me and I've met many people and heard many opinions along the way.
I don't know that shining a light on the groupings of skeptical arguments will make much of a difference, but it has been an interesting effort for me. I will generally argue that a climate skeptic should attack the thing they actually dislike, but since policy advocacy is about winning a negotiation position by forming a large voter block and not about being academically correct I'm probably urging a political impossibility. Democracy is what it is, after all.
Change is coming to the US manned space program. At last! Real, dramatic, tangible, believable changes in the course and the results created will finally steer us to this nation's future we dreamed of decades ago.
The time for change is long past due. What we have been doing in human space flight in the US since Apollo has been a failure of epic proportions. Many will defend the status quo and express anger over the upcoming changes proposed by the Obama Administration, but the national track record for manned space flight demonstrates a past that is more about jobs programs, Congressional pork, and broken promises. Defenders of the past are left protecting many billions of dollars spent flying some stuff around in circles, employing a work force that has had no appreciable effect on any grand vision we hold for our national future, and quietly agreeing to accept the myth that they all are doing something useful.
At the risk of heresy, consider any rational measure of the NASA operated human spaceflight program since Apollo. How many promised milestones have been achieved regarding flight rates, payload costs, access for regular people, and science? The unmanned space program HAS managed to accomplish quite a lot with respect to science, but even they are held back by the high costs of accessing space. The original promises for the Space Shuttle spoke of weekly flights, ten dollars per pound ($22 per kg) to orbit, and low operational costs of a mundane service. Instead we were doing great to get five flights a year, purposely obfuscated costs for payloads, and $1,000 Million spent on each flight. We have a standing army employed to accomplish those flights and not a mundane service crew. This is an epic failure considering just the Space Shuttle alone! Consider the $1,000 Million spent on the X-33 that failed to be good enough to even leave the hangar and other attempted transportation projects since Apollo and it becomes abundantly clear that NASA human space flight expenditures weren't about successful space goals. The only measure of success by which they pass is the funneling of money to Congressional districts.
The background of repeated failures in our nation's human spaceflight program must be kept in mind when we judge the changes coming from the White House. These changes focus on Earth to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) transportation plans and how they can be provided by commercial sources. NASA proposes (at the White House's encouragement) to hand over this role to commercial space firms. They propose to buy transportation as a service. At the moment, the announcement is from the NASA Press Office, so a dose of skepticism is a good defense against yet another promise dashed by pork politics. This time, however, the White House is behind the message. We can dare to hope (audaciously so!) that we will break the circular self gratification huddle of our old ways and go somewhere else. More importantly we will go somewhere else in a way that lets us do it again, and again, and again. This time, 'we' will mean more than NASA's employees. It will mean us too. How can it? Those commercial providers will want to make money to increase share holder value (as they must) and that means they will want to sell other flights. That is where 'we' get our vision of the future.
NASA will have to make changes. It can no longer see itself as the Emperor of all things in space. It has done this in the past and failed to deliver. The agency simply cannot get it right when it comes to building their own launch systems, let alone operating them. They cannot be both a government agency and a profitable company. It is time they stopped trying and accept their successes elsewhere while relying upon the free markets to deliver the other services. They succeeded with Apollo because they had an achievable set of goals and didn't have to act like a corporation competing in a free market. They can let the taxi and trucking services go to those who want to deliver them now.
For example, California's SPACEX from its creation through its first successful orbital flights and all the industrial tooling and facilities to support them spent far less than the $445 million NASA has on the recent flight of the Ares 1-X mockup. That mockup didn't even make it to orbit. The Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 from SPACEX is projected to cost a fraction of the Ares and Orion systems proposed by NASA. We know in which direction NASA's cost projections trend over the life of their programs of the last few decades and must remember that SPACEX has managed to put things in orbit. Orbital Sciences Corp is in a similar position with it's Taurus vehicle and projects similar cost savings over the smoke and mirrors that is Ares/Orion.
Even if one feels less that secure in betting on NewSpace firms, it is important to realize that some of the large traditional companies are adapting old systems to carry payloads and people into orbit to serve commercial customers and yes... even the International Space Station. Atlas V and Delta IV have flown many times (infinitely more than Ares/Orion in terms of percentages) and the Boeing/Bigelow crew capsule under development will cost a fraction of that needed for Orion. This isn't smoke and mirrors as Bigelow already has experience in orbit too. NASA's exploration job need not start at the launch pad anymore. The gate to their part of the frontier has moved up and out into orbit
None of this will happen if the old politics and the old players win the day, but we are on the proverbial edge of a bright new frontier. We can not rationalize wasteful spending that leads us around in circles and employs bright people to accomplish nothing of great value. Access to orbit can be made more mundane, but only by unleashing the free market to do what it does best. NASA can achieve higher goals of exploration and science, but only by unleashing the power of free enterprise to deliver goods and services NASA fails to deliver to itself. The Obama Administration is proposing (through NASA) to do exactly that.
And so the battle is joined. In a dose of historical irony, many who fought so long the wasteful spending and years of great talent lost in the human space flight program in the US find ourselves standing with the current agency leaders like Charlie Bolden and the Obama Administration to fight for this new vision. Those of us who loved the early NASA and what it did for a generation of engineers, scientists, and dreamers fought back tears of anger and frustration for years over what they did next, but now we can join them in a defense of their new plan that makes rational sense. It is about time.
Dare we hope again?
Do we have the audacity?
The family move to southern California is almost done and the new job is going well. I'm doing Remedy work still, but my new employer needs ITIL is a much bigger way than my last one and they know it. I'm going to have to learn to call it ISO 20000, though. I'm beginning to think of these standards as job security for guys like me.
We've used two 26 foot trucks and two 17 foot trucks from U-Haul now. This last 17 footer won't be full, so we probably could have done it with three 26 foot trucks. That's how much... uhmm... history... I am tracking around with me. Obviously I need some help getting rid of old stuff. It's much more fun to just acquire new stuff.
We arrived last night with typically foggy weather where it's not exactly safe to drive the highways at full speed. Of course, people DO drive the highways at full speed. I've lived in the central valley for about 26 years now. I won't miss this fog.
We have fit almost everything into a smaller house. I expect it to burst at the seams any day now. One more truck load should do it, though, like an after-dinner mint. It's wafer thin.