July 6th, 2010

forums, me, non blog

[META] Who are you people?

Apparently there is a bit of a trend among blogs for their bloggers to say hi to everyone and ask them all--particularly the people who do not normally comment--who they are and how are they doing.

So. Who are you people? Indulge my curiosity, please!

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton callsfor legislation limiting the grounds on which parents can edit their prospective children while they are still in the fetus stage. Queerness isn't the only thing likely to be selected against.

  • At the Burgh Diaspora, Jim Russell suggests that some American cities may catch up in the "creative class" ranks and others fall behind: cities in the US plains fall in the former category, Chicago possibly in the latter.

  • Eastern approaches' Edward Lucas suggests that East Germany helped support Britain's coal miners in the 1980s, with vacations, and subsidies of various kinds.

  • Geocurrents examines the coalescing Melanesian identity in the Pacific, based not so much upon a sense of shared identity in this diverse region as shared challenges--and enemies.

  • Razib Khan at GNXP uses a telling example to demonstrate that genes are not, in fact, the sole determinants of one's persona. Does a demonstrably non-psychopathic brain scientist whose genes and brainscans suggest he should be a psychopath work as proof for you?

  • At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen notes that perennial European Union applicant Turkey would be better qualified, by virtue of its debt and deficit, for membership in the Eurozone than most of the Euro's current members.

  • Norman Geras wonders if humans have evolved to prefer functioning in hierarchies.

  • Torontoist's Marc Lostracco praises Toronto Maple Leafs coach Brian Burke for marching in Toronto's recent Pride parade in memory of his recent dead, out, gay son Brian Burke.

  • At Wasatch Economics, Scott lets us know that China's banking sector, quite possibly laden with huge amounts of bad loans that no one has gotten around to check, might start to go down very soon.

  • Window on Eurasia points out that Russia's neighbours, as important as they may be in terms of prestige, generally aren't that important as partners, in terms of trade or military relations or most other domains. (Ukraine is an exception.)

[BRIEF NOTE] And more on lunar helium-3

The most regular Neil Reynolds article in the Globe and Mail, "Many moons to go: the promise of lunar mining" prompted james_nicoll, when he came across it, to give it the tag "die lunar helium 3 die." That may be, but when I read it in print I was more taken aback by his opening comments on Titan.

For $1-billion, Canada convened a summer weekend session of assorted world leaders who, as they left, produced an ambivalent communiqué of improbable historic importance. For $3.2-billion (U.S.), or a week’s worth of such summitry, several of these same countries paid for the U.S.-European Cassini space mission to Saturn, a 3.5-billion kilometre, seven-year voyage that has revealed the secrets of Saturn’s strange orange moon, Titan. It turns out that Titan is awash in liquid hydrocarbons: in oil. Indeed, it rains liquid hydrocarbons – and, in the moon’s light gravity, each drop floats down from the clouds at roughly the speed that large snowflakes fall to Earth.

With only one-fifth of this moon radar-scanned so far, scientists calculate that dozens of lunar lakes each hold more oil and gas than all of Earth’s proven oil and gas reserves – and that Titan’s equatorial sand dunes hold hundreds of times more coal than all of Earth’s proven coal reserves. Titan is a vast reservoir of hydrocarbons. Talk about Peak Oil.

I don't think that he was serious about Titan's hydrocarbons being a potential source of energy, because if he was, as a commenter at James' blog pointed out, the physics would be impossible.

On the broader issue, can it *possibly* be energy-effective to ship petroleum an average of 9 AU from Titan to Earth orbit? The difference in orbital velocities is 20km/s, and that rotational energy has to come from somewhere.

Ah, unless I've dropped a 0 somewhere, I think it can't be. Gasoline has an energy content of 44 Mj/kg, and the difference in kinetic energy is ~400 Mj/kg (1 kg x (20,000 m/s)^2).

Reynolds is much more interested in the Moon's helium-3.

Our own moon is a mere 384,000 kilometres away, four days by shuttle – less time than it takes to truck grapes from California to Toronto. China, for one, now appears to understand the strategic importance of Earth’s moon: Chinese geochemist Ouyang Ziyuan, director of China’s Lunar Exploration Program, says that a principal goal of China’s space program is the mining of Helium-3, a non-radioactive isotope scarce on Earth but relatively plentiful on the moon.

By some calculations (including China’s), a four-ton shuttle load of lunar Helium-3 per week would theoretically provide enough safe nuclear-fusion energy to meet the needs of the entire world. (The only practical Earth source for Helium-3 is apparently obsolete nuclear warheads.) Russian scientists have advanced similar analysis – suggesting that lunar mining could be under way by 2020, provided governments invested $6-billion in up-front funding.

Only Americans – 12 of them – have walked on the moon. U.S. astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a geologist, was the last – in 1972. Mr. Schmitt champions lunar mining of Helium-3 and puts the up-front cost at $15-billion, or (he says) roughly the cost of building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

I myself have noted in the past that (1, 2), apart from being so expensive to separate from the lunar soil as to be uneconomic--stripmining the Moon's surface is expensive--commercial nuclear fusion is decades away and, in any case, helium-3 fusion is even more difficult than the regular nuclear fusion that (I reiterate) is decades away. Helium-3, as autopope noted in the comments to post #2, is best understood as a desperate pseudoeconomic rationale to make the case that space colonization is economically sensible and doesn't need to be driven largely by the sentiment "Isn't it cool?"